In order to practice medicine in the United States, a physician must graduate from medical school, complete a U.S. residency program, and pass licensing examinations. If you are a foreign national who wishes to attend medical school in the U.S., you can do so under an F-1 student visa. This visa allows you to stay in the U.S. so long as you are enrolled full-time in medical school and for up to a year after graduation to complete additional practical training. However, to complete a medical residency program, you must obtain a J-1 exchange visa or H-1B visa. Likewise, if you are a foreign national who has graduated from a medical school outside of the U.S., you can come to the U.S. to complete a medical residency program under the J-1 exchange visa or H-1B visa.
Some of the differences between an F-1 visa and a J-1 visa are as follows:
Eligibility for an F-1 visa comes with no restrictions on your funding, be it personal, outside funds, or a combination of both. To be eligible for a J-1 visa, a substantial portion of your funding must come from non-personal sources, such as from your program in the U.S., your home institution, or your government.
Under the F-1 visa, F-2 classified dependents are not eligible for employment. Under the J-1 program, spouses and unmarried children under 21 years of age, regardless of nationality, are entitled to J-2 classification and are entitled to work authorization; however, their income may not be used to support you.
Under the F-1 visa, you are not required to return to your home country after completion of your studies. Under the J-1 visa, you must return to your home country for two years after completing residency (the two-year foreign residency requirement).
It should be noted that a “J-1 Physician” cannot remain to work in the U.S. immediately after completion of medical residency. For many foreign born physicians this is no doubt quite an obstacle. However, there are a number of methods to obtain a waiver of the two-year foreign residency requirement. In addition, some foreign nationals avoid this hurdle altogether by completing their medical residency programs with a visa for professional workers (H-1B) (as opposed to the J-1 exchange visa). It appears more and more residency programs will sponsor a foreign born physician for an H-1B professional worker visa so you need to understand the special challenges that occur with H-1B status. We will discuss this in our next article.