The United States doesn’t train enough healthcare workers to meet its needs. For example, the projected shortfall for physicians is expected to be at least 46,000 by 2032*. Similarly, there’s a shortage of nurses, technicians, and other healthcare workers. The problem is especially acute in rural areas.
Foreign National workers have played an important role in filling these needs. In 2017, over 10,000 H-1B visas were issued to physicians and other medical workers**. Let's look at some of the visa options that foreign national healthcare workers could use to work in the U.S. healthcare industry.
Regular H-1B Visa
H-1B visa is the primary immigration route for physicians and nurses. As we know, H-1B visas have a numerical cap of 65,000 a year, with an additional 20,000 a year available for US degree holders. These (cap-subject) visas are in high demand from many employers and are selected by lottery almost every year. About 3600-4000 cap-subject (estimated) visas are used by physicians, therapists and other health care specialty workers every year.
Cap-exempt H-1B Visa
Fortunately, there is a category of H-1B visas exempt from the annual cap (cap-exempt). These are reserved for institutes of higher learning and research organizations. Many medical facilities affiliated with universities and research laboratories qualify for the cap-exempt visas. For example, BJC health system is affiliated with Washington University in St Louis, and thus qualifies for cap-exempt visas for its foreign national employees.
J-1 Visa Waiver
In addition, many immigrant physicians are studying in the US using a J-1 exchange student visa. This visa requires the physician to stay outside the US for at least 2 years after the visa term ends. However, if the physician is willing to serve for 3 years in a designated Health Professional Shortage Area (HPSA) or VA, they can qualify for a J-1 waiver and a cap-exempt H-1B.
As with all other occupations, family-based immigration, for example, via marriage to a US citizen or permanent resident, also enables medical employment in the US. The statistics for this route, are unfortunately, not available.
As the US population is aging and the baby-boomers are retiring, the need for medical workers is only growing and the shortage is only growing more acute. Immigration can serve an important role in filling the gaps. We expect the number of visas for healthcare workers to go up in the future.
* - AAMC.ORG
** - USCIS.GOV
Content in this publication is not intended as legal advice, nor should it be relied on as such. For additional information on the issues discussed, consult a WayLit-affiliated attorney or another qualified professional.