Immigration Options for Nurses and Physical Therapists Working in the United States


Physical therapists and registered nurses are in high demand in the United States. There are several visa and green card categories that RN’s and PT’s can qualify for in order to work in the United States:

H-1B Visa

The H-1B work visa may be issued to foreign nationals seeking temporary work in a “specialty occupation,” which requires the skills of a professional. Congress issues 65,000 H-1B visas every year, with an additional 20,000 for those with master’s degrees or higher.


The job must meet one of the following criteria to qualify as a specialty occupation under an H-1B visa:

  • Bachelor’s or higher degree or its equivalent is normally the minimum entry requirement for the position being offered
  • The degree requirement for the position being offered is common to the industry, or the job is so complex or unique that it can be performed only by an individual with a degree
  • The employer normally requires a degree or its equivalent for the position being offered
  • The nature of the specific duties is so specialized and complex that the knowledge required to perform the duties is usually associated with the attainment of a bachelor’s degree or higher (i.e. Master’s, MBA, J.D., PhD., etc.)

To qualify to accept a job offer in a specialty occupation, the foreign national must meet one of the following criteria:

  • Have completed a U.S. bachelor’s degree or higher required by the specific specialty occupation from an accredited college or university
  • Hold a foreign degree that is the equivalent to a U.S. bachelor’s or higher degree in the specialty occupation
  • Hold an unrestricted state license, registration, or certification which authorizes the beneficiary to fully practice the specialty occupation and be engaged in that specialty in the state of intended employment
  • Have education, training, or progressively responsible experience in the specialty that is equivalent to the completion of such a degree, and have recognition of expertise in the specialty through progressively responsible positions directly related to the specialty

H-1B visas for nurses and physical therapists have almost always been granted because they are considered a specialized occupation. Physical therapists generally possess a graduate degree, such as a Master’s or Doctorate in Physical Therapy. Nurses must possess a valid license in their home country and have completed at least two years of education in nursing.

Please click here for more information on the H-1B visa.

TN Visa

Under Chapter 16 of the North American Free Trade Agreement, Canadian, Mexican and U.S. citizens can enter the three respective countries to conduct business or investment activities. Canadian and Mexican citizens may work in the United States in a specific professional occupation if:

  • They qualify under the “Professionals Under the North American Free Trade Agreement” list;
  • They possess certain specific criteria for that profession (i.e., relevant degree);
  • The position in the U.S. requires a candidate in that professional capacity and;
  • They will be entering to work for a U.S. employer

“Nurses” and “physical therapists” are both listed in NAFTA as occupations that meet the criteria for a TN visa.

TN visa advantages

TN visas are valid for up to three years at a time, and may be renewed indefinitely so long as the applicant can demonstrate an intent to return home to Canada at the expiration of the visa. TN visas are also easier relatively easy to apply for, and to have approved. There are three ways to apply for a TN visa:

  • In person at a port of entry (POE) to the United States
  • By submitting an application to the USCIS while in the United States
  • By submitting an application to the USCIS from abroad

Please click here for more information on the TN visa.

EB-2 Green Card

The EB-2 category is reserved for individuals of exceptional ability in the arts, sciences or business; individuals with advanced degrees (M.D., J.D., LLM, Ph.D. etc.); and foreign doctors who will practice in an underserved area in the U.S. Foreign nationals who qualify for an EB-2 green card must have an employer who is willing to file a petition on his/her behalf.

Most physical therapists qualify for EB-2 green cards because this occupation usually requires a graduate degree, such as a Master’s in Physical Therapy or a Doctorate of Physical Therapy. Nurses who possess a Master’s or a Doctorate degree in nursing may also be eligible for an EB-2 green card.

EB-3 Green Card

The EB-3 category is reserved for skilled workers with two years training and experience; professionals with bachelor’s degrees; and other “unskilled” workers. Nurses with a bachelor’s degree in nursing qualify for an EB-3 green card,

As with the EB-2 green card, foreign nationals who qualify for an EB-3 green card must have an employer who is willing to file a petition on his/her behalf.

Please click here for more information on the EB-2 & EB-3 green card.


Employers filing for an employment-based permanent residency under the EB-2 or EB-3 categories on behalf of a foreign employee must usually undergo a process known as PERM, which includes series of recruiting procedures to demonstrate that it was unable to recruit a qualified U.S. worker for that position. However, physical therapists and nurses are exempted from the PERM process under Schedule A, Group 1. In short, the means that employers do not have to undergo a recruiting process to find other available U.S. nurses or physical therapists in order to sponsor a foreign employee for a green card. This greatly reduces the amount of work needed to be done for the green card application, and it also reduces the time it takes for a foreign nurses or physical therapist to obtain a green card.