Fast-Track Green Card for Physical Therapists

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The United States Department of Labor (DOL) has declared a shortage of US physical therapists. The great news for employers is it is faster for physical therapists to obtain a green card than foreign nationals in most other occupations.

Why is it Faster to Sponsor a Physical Therapist on a Green Card?

PERM Labor Certification is normally the first step to sponsor a permanent employee on a green card. The process is designed to protect US workers, but it takes months for employers to complete. Employers must test the labor market to ensure there are no sufficiently qualified US workers to fill the position being offered to the foreign worker. Employers normally submit their PERM Labor Certification to the DOL for approval.

However, certain occupations like physical therapists have a shortage of “able, willing, qualified and available” US workers. These “Schedule A” occupations are pre-certified by the DOL. This means that these occupations do not need to obtain certification from the DOL. Physical therapist employers can thus enjoy a shorter green card process for qualified foreign nationals.

Does My Physical Therapist Employee Qualify for a Fast-Track Green Card?

To qualify for a “Schedule A” fast track green card, the foreign national must have:

  1. At least a bachelor’s degree in physical therapy or the equivalent. The minimum degree requirement depends on the state and/or the specific position. Sometimes a master’s degree or higher is needed.
  2. A permanent license to practice in the state of intended employment,

OR

The employer must obtain a letter or statement that includes the following:

  • Signature from an authorized state physical therapy licensing official
  • Statement that the applicant is qualified to take that state’s written licensing examination for physical therapists

Each state has specific requirements for foreign national physical therapists to qualify for green cards. These can include English competency tests, and specific hours from credentialing. Employers should get in touch with their local physical therapy licensing authority to learn more about the regulations in their state.

How the Green Card Process Works for Foreign Physical Therapists

Step 1: Getting Authorized to Practice in the US as a Foreign National Physical Therapist

Physical Therapists who receive education and training outside of the US must verify that their experience and training is equivalent to that of a US graduate.

Like other healthcare workers, foreign-trained physical therapists who would like to work in the US must obtain a “VisaScreen®” Certificate.

The VisaScreen Certificate shows that the applicant’s credentials are comparable to a US physical therapist, including:

  • Education
  • Training
  • Experience
  • English-speaking ability

For physical therapists, the VisaScreen Certificate is issued by the Commission of Graduates of Foreign Nursing Schools (CGFNS) or the Federal Credentialing Commission on Physical Therapy (FCCPT).

National Physical Therapy Examination: Required for Foreign Physical Therapists

Prospective employees must also register with the Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy (FSBPT) to take the  National Physical Therapy Examination (NPTE).

Once the candidate’s file is complete, the state will contact the FSBPT to obtain permission to take the test.

The FSBPT responds to the state’s request by sending an “Authorization to Test” letter to the candidate.

A complete candidate file includes:

  • Application
  • Fees
  • English tests (if required)
  • Other state requirements

Step 2: Labor Certification and Immigrant Visa Petition (I-140)

Labor Certification Application

The green card sponsorship process begins with the Labor Certification Application form (ETA 9089). The DOL does not need to certify the form, saving valuable time. However, physical therapist employers must still post the job opening

Minimum Salary: Prevailing Wage

As a part of the Labor Certification process, employers must determine the minimum wage to pay their foreign physical therapist. This is also known as a Prevailing Wage (PW), and it varies based on work location.

If employees are unionized, the employer must pay the foreign national PT’s according to their collective bargaining agreement. Otherwise, the PW for physical therapists is determined through the Foreign Labor Certification Data Center Online Wage Library.

Immigrant Visa Petition (I-140)

After filing the Labor Certification, employers must submit the Immigrant Visa Petition, or I-140 to the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

The I-140 stage focuses on your:

  • Ability to permanently employ the physical therapist
  • Employee’s professional qualifications for the position

The USCIS evaluates the employee’s academic credentials and professional experience to determine whether they meet the requirements for the position described in the Labor Certification Application. The USCIS will also evaluate the employer’s ability to pay the required wage.

All employment-based (EB) green cards are placed into “preference categories” during the I-140 process, based on the:

  • Position
  • Occupation type

These EB categories are ranked in order of when the USCIS processes the applications, and how many visas are allotted per year. Schedule A occupations like Physical Therapists are categorized as EB-3 professional occupations.

Step 3: Application for Permanent Residency

After the USCIS approves the I-140 petition, the physical therapist can file his or her own application for permanent residency. This is the last stage of the green card process for physical therapists. The physical therapist’s dependents may also apply for a green card, including:

  • Their spouse
  • Unmarried children under the age of 21

The filing for physical therapists depends on the availability of the EB-3 visa. The EB-3 category is restricted by an annual immigrant visa quota.

The US Department of State publishes a monthly visa bulletin which displays wait times for different categories. The priority date determines who is eligible to apply for:

  • Adjustment of status to permanent resident (Form I-485), for those remaining in the US
  • Consular Processing, for those who will get their green card outside of the US

For physical therapists and other Schedule A occupations, the priority date is the day when the employer first filed the I-140 petition with the USCIS.

In the visa bulletin, the State Department provides a “cut-off” date for each preference category. The State Department determines cut-off dates by viewing the priority date of the earliest applicant who could not file for adjustment of status due to the previous month’s dates and quota.

Conclusion

It is faster and easier for physical therapists to obtain a green card, compared with many other professionals, because physical therapy is a Schedule A occupation.

Green cards are a preferred option for foreign national physical therapists. Ultimately green cards allow them to permanently live and work in the US. However, green cards have certain requirements that some US employers may not meet.

Foreign national physical therapists can work in the US temporarily on H-1B visas. H-1B visas are a better fit in some circumstances, like when a job is temporary.

If you are not sure how to comply with visa regulations, or which visa is the best fit for your employee, please contact an experienced Chugh, LLP attorney for guidance. Our experienced professionals will be happy to guide you through the process.