An H1-B visa is a temporary work visa allowing those in specialty occupations to work in the United States. H1-B visas are granted initially for up to three years, and are renewable for another three years. With some exceptions, H1B visas are limited to six years in duration.

Because medicine is defined as a “specialty occupation,” the H1B visa is a good option for any foreign medical graduate (FMG) seeking residency or fellowship training in the U.S., and planning to remain in the U.S. to practice medicine at the completion of that training.

The J-1 visa (Exchange Visitor) also enables FMGs to pursue residency and/or fellowship training in the U.S. While the J-1 Visa is easier to obtain initially, it comes with a requirement that you depart the U.S. at the completion of your training and spend two years in your home country before being able to return to the U.S. This two-year home residency requirement can be difficult to waive.

Therefore, if your intent is to practice medicine in the U.S. following your residency training, the H1-B visa is often the best route to take. With an H1B visa, you will be eligible to begin the process for a obtaining a Green Card without leaving the United States; with a J-1 visa, you will not. Keep in mind, however, that obtaining an H1-B visa and finding a program willing to sponsor you requires some advance planning. Most FMG’s will want to begin this planning prior to completing medical school.

Requirements for getting an H-1B visa as an FMG

To obtain an H1B visa for a fellowship/intern/residency position, you must have the following:

• – Medical Degree from an accredited medical school (in the U.S. or abroad).

• – An offer from a U.S. fellowship or residency program that agrees to H1-B sponsorship. 
(Note: Many programs prefer J-1 visas because ECFMG handles the processing for them, while H1B processing must be handled by the programs themselves.

However, many programs do agree to sponsorship. You should ask your programs directly if they will consider H1B sponsorship in lieu of J-1. Often programs which have a policy of not sponsoring H-1B visas do so because they are simply unfamiliar with the process.)

• – ECFMG certification

• – USMLE Steps I,II & III or FLEX Parts 1 and 2

• – State medical license or other authorization to practice medicine in the state of intended employment. (Most states require medical residents to have state training licenses to practice medicine.)