J1 VisaThe United States and its territories are home to hundreds of thousands of immigrant doctors and other healthcare professionals. In fact, according to the Migration Policy Institute, about 26% of all physicians practicing within the United States immigrated to the country.

These immigrants are critically important to the U.S. healthcare system, and the Department of State has a program that allows foreign doctors to come to the country to complete their residencies or engage in internships. Called the J1 Visa program, these professionals receive a special visa to pursue their medical training.

To be eligible for the program, physicians must meet certain standards in terms of their experiences, background and general needs. They must have already received medical education and training from a school of medicine accredited by the Liaison Committee on Medical Education. Additionally, they must have passed the U.S. Medical Licensing Examination (both steps 1 and 2) or at least one of the tests that had previously been given to foreign medical students.

Prior to actually receiving the visa, the doctor must also collect certain documents. First, the training doctor must provide documentation of a clear need for more physicians in his or her country. This “statement of need” must be submitted to the Education Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates in the United States.

Applicants must also obtain a written agreement with the medical school or scientific institution at which they will perform their residency or internship. Finally, applicants must receive a signed certificate of eligibility from the sponsor of their chosen clinical or nonclinical programs.

Applying for the J1 Visa

Once all of the proper documentation has been collected, the applicant is ready to receive the visa. The first step is to fill out a form called DS-160, which is the visa application. There will also be an application fee that may be paid at a designated bank. The receipt for the application fee and the DS-160 are potentially important down the road, so you should make sure to save them for your records.

After the application fee is paid, the doctor sets up an appointment to interview at their home country’s U.S. consulate. There is a SEVIS fee, which goes toward funding for the overall J1 program, that must be paid before the interview. The interview is the doctor’s opportunity to present all documents supporting the application. The consular officer will ask questions in English to ensure eligibility, and security checks will be made to ensure the doctor is not a health or security threat.

As a next step, the J1 Visa will be issued (if approved). Family members, such as spouses and minor children, are allowed to accompany the doctors in training to the United States, with each family member being required to file a separate DS-2019 form.

To learn more about the J1 Visa application process, speak with a skilled immigration law attorney. An experienced legal professional will be able to walk you and your organization through the process, ensuring you avoid some of the common pitfalls that can negatively impact these applications.


Tom Bolt is Managing Attorney for BoltNagi, a widely respected and established business law firm with  immigration expertise serving clients throughout the U.S. Virgin Islands.