To qualify for immigrant visa (green card) through the EB-2 category, the immigrant must hold an advanced degree (master’s degree or equivalent, or higher) and be a member of a profession, or show he or she has exceptional ability in the sciences, arts or business. All physicians qualify as professionals with advanced degrees for this purpose.
However, unlike their counterparts who qualify for extraordinary ability EB-1 status, EB-2 physicians must be sponsored by an employer. Furthermore, the employer must obtain a labor certification unless the physician’s work is considered “in the national interest.” Such a physician qualifies for a so-called National Interest Waiver.
The chief advantage to the national interest waiver is that it allows the physician to self-sponsor. As a result, the physician may change jobs or even engage in self-employment so long as other conditions are met. There are two types of National Interest Waivers. The first applies to any individual in any occupation but the second applies only to certain physicians which we will discuss here.
Fortunately, Congress has passed special rules regarding National Interest Waivers for physicians who work in VA hospitals or in medically underserved areas. These physicians may obtain permanent residence; provided that they perform full-time medical service in a qualifying facility for five years. There is no restriction as to specialty. After the physician has completed all five years of medical service, the DHS will approve the permanent residence application and issue the green card. The DHS will count all medical service that was completed in lawful status, even if the physician does not apply for the national interest waiver until after he has completed medical service. For example, a physician completes two years in a medically underserved area in O-1 status and then applies for the national interest waiver. The physician needs to work only three more years to meet the five-year medical service requirement.
To support a national interest waiver application, the physician must provide:
- A five-year contract of employment or affirm that he will engage in self-employment for the required period of service;
- Evidence that the location of employment is a designated Health Professional Shortage Area (HPSA) or Medically Underserved Area (MUA), or in a Veterans Affairs facility;
- A public interest letter (no older than six months) from a federal agency or department of health of the state where the employment is located;
- Proof of licensing and passage of USMLE examinations; and
- Proof of waiver of the two-year foreign residency requirement for J-1 physicians, if applicable.
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