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Visa Types to Explore in the Healthcare Space

Feb 8, 2024

A doctor perform an immigration medical exam.

In recent years, the United States has grappled with a significant shortage of healthcare workers, exacerbating the challenges faced by an already strained healthcare system. This labor shortage, attributed to factors such as an aging population and increased demand for healthcare services, has created a critical need for qualified professionals in the healthcare space. The COVID-19 pandemic exposed this dire need for healthcare workers even further, with healthcare facilities stretched thin and the patient-to-caregiver ratio skyrocketing. 

Recruiting skilled healthcare professionals from abroad has grown in popularity as a strategic solution to combating immediate labor shortages. Hiring foreign workers on U.S. work visas not only helps fill crucial roles, but also brings diverse perspectives and global expertise to the American healthcare landscape. 

If you’re in the healthcare industry and looking to bolster your company with global talent, we’ve put together a guide of common U.S. work visas to consider for your prospective international employees.

Boundless tip

Learn why healthcare roles are one of the fastest growing jobs in the U.S. market today in Boundless’ latest post.

H-1B Visa

One of the most common work visas in U.S. business immigration, the H-1B visa is commonly used for highly-skilled workers in “specialty occupations.” While not exclusive to healthcare, it is a valuable option for recruiting foreign medical professionals with specialized expertise, such as physicians, surgeons, nurses, dentists, and medical researchers. It’s important to note that employers sponsoring H-1B visas must ensure that the candidate holds the required credentials and licenses for practicing medicine in the U.S.

Not sure if a certain position qualifies for an H-1B visa? Check out our guide to learn what types of speciality occupations qualify for an H-1B visa. 

An immigrant talking with her doctor

J-1 Exchange Visitor Visa

The J-1 visa program facilitates the exchange of individuals for educational and cultural purposes. Within the healthcare sector, the J-1 visa for medical graduates is commonly used for clinical training programs, including medical residencies and fellowships. These programs are essential for foreign medical graduates who seek additional training and experience in a specific medical specialty.

J-1 visa holders in medical programs typically work in accredited educational institutions, hospitals, or clinical settings. The program must be approved by the Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates (ECFMG) or be sponsored by the relevant government agency.

Learn more about the J-1 visa process and eligibility requirements here.

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Conrad 30 Waiver Program

For HR professionals looking to hire J-1 medical graduates, it may be helpful to look into the Conrad 30 Waiver Program. 

The Conrad 30 Waiver Program allows J-1 medical graduates to apply for a waiver of the two-year home residency requirement if they commit to working in medically underserved areas in the U.S. This provides an opportunity for J-1 visa holders to stay and contribute to healthcare in areas with shortages of medical professionals. Eligibility criteria for the Conrad 30 Waiver Program may vary from state to state, so be sure to check with your local public health department before moving forward with this option for your prospective hire.

TN Visa for Canadian and Mexican Healthcare Professionals

Depending on the type of position available, the TN visa may be a good option to consider for Canadian and Mexican healthcare professionals, including nurses, doctors, and therapists. This visa category is particularly advantageous for expedited hiring processes, as it often requires minimal documentation compared to other visa types. 

Learn more about the TN visa for Canadian and Mexican nationals here.

O-1 Visa for Extraordinary Ability

The O visa is designated for individuals with extraordinary ability or achievement in their field. While commonly associated with artists and athletes, healthcare professionals with exceptional accomplishments, such as renowned surgeons or medical researchers, may also qualify for the O visa. HR professionals should collaborate with legal experts to demonstrate the candidate’s extraordinary contributions to the healthcare field. 

H-2B Visa for Temporary Non-Agricultural Workers

Although primarily intended for non-agricultural workers, the H-2B visa can be applicable in certain healthcare scenarios where temporary staffing needs arise, such as during peak patient influxes or seasonal demand. 

It is crucial for HR professionals to understand the limitations and requirements associated with the H-2B visa, ensuring compliance with relevant regulations. For example, the H-2B visa is typically only issued for a maximum duration of one year, and therefore it may not be the best choice for companies looking to fill more permanent positions.

The Bottom Line

Effectively addressing the healthcare workforce shortage in the U.S. requires HR professionals and healthcare companies to explore diverse avenues, including the strategic use of work visas. By understanding the nuances of each visa category and aligning them with specific healthcare roles, organizations can navigate the complex immigration landscape and secure the talent needed to uphold the nation’s healthcare standards.

Boundless tip

If you’re an HR professional or company leader looking to hire international talent, get access to our business immigration solutions and in-house legal team here.