Physical Therapist and H-1B Issues They Face

In one of my past articles, I shared with readers frequent questions asked by Physical Therapists (PTs) who wish to immigrate or work in the U.S. The response to this article has been tremendous and I received several very good follow-up questions regarding PTs and the H-1B visa. This article will answer some of the new questions that have broad implications for PTs.

I came to the U.S. as a tourist a few months ago and took the California PT licensing exam. A PT clinic has offered me a job as a PT? Can I work for the clinic? What do I need to do?

Your new prospective employer can file a petition with the USCIS (formerly known as the INS) on your behalf to change your status from a B-2 tourist to H-1B. If you hold an unrestricted California PT license and have a Visa Screen, you can obtain H-1B status valid for three years. You may begin working for your employer on the day the CIS approves the petition.

If you do not have the Visa Screen or an unrestricted license, you may be granted H-1B status for only one year. This allows you one year in which to obtain both the Visa Screen and the license. PT’s in the U.S. will be allowed to obtain H-1B status or extend their H-1B status without a Visa Screen in one-year increments only up until June 26, 2004. After June 26, 2004, all PTs requesting changes or extension of status must obtain a Visa Screen.

I came to the U.S three years ago on an H-1B visa as a Physical Therapist. I need to extend my status after June 26, 2004. Will I need a Visa Screen?

New regulations require you have a Visa Screen by June 26, 2004 in order to obtain any H-1B extensions. So, if you have not already obtained a Visa Screen make sure to begin the process. It takes CGFNS or FCCPT approximately six months to issue a Visa Screen. This means any PT whose H-1B status expires within the next few months should start the Visa Screen process no later than December 2003.

Can I work for an employer other than the one who petitioned me for H-1B? I want to moonlight part-time at another facility. Can I?

The H-1B only grants you authorization to work with the specific employer who sponsored you. You may have more than one H-1B employer petitioning you simultaneously or concurrently. The H-1B category also allows you to be petitioned as a part-time employee. So, if you wish to moonlight as a PT, your second employer must file a Concurrent H-1B petition. If you decide to change employers altogether, your new employer must file a change of employer petition. Immigration law allows you to begin working with the new employer on the day the CIS receives the new petition. You do not need to wait for the petition to be approved.

What is the H-1B visa cap and does it affect PTs?

Immigration law limits the number of H-1B visas that may be issued in a fiscal year. As of October 1, 2003 this cap was lowered to 60,000 H-1Bs from over 100,000. The last time the cap was this low, H-1B visas ran out around March and April. PT’s will have to compete with other specialty occupations such as Accountants, Software Engineers, Programmers, and Engineers for the 60,000 visa numbers.

The single most important thing a PT who is in the U.S. in H-1B status, or who will be coming to the U.S. in H-1B status, can do is begin and complete the Visa Screen process. After June 26, 2004, PTs will no longer be allowed to work in the U.S. as a PT without a Visa Screen. A pending Visa Screen application will not be accepted by the USCIS. The Visa Screen must be complete, and because this takes approximately six months to complete, PTs should wait no later that December 2003 to file their Visa Screen application.