O-1 Visas for Medical Residents

WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS TO AN O VISA FOR A MEDICAL RESIDENT?

There are a number of benefits to the O-1 visa:

  • The Department of Labor is not involved, therefore there is no prevailing wage issue
  • J visa holders who are subject to the 2-year home residency requirement (212e) are eligible for an O visa. They cannot change status in the United States, however, and must consular process.
  • There is no cap to the number of O visas that may be granted in any fiscal year, like there is for H-1B visas.
  • There is no 6-year limit; O-1 visas are renewable indefinitely.
  • USMLE tests are not required for the O-1.
  • Possibility of moonlighting - an O-1 might make it easier for a doctor to pick up shifts in an emergency room, as hospitalist etc, at their own hospital or another.
  • An individual does not have to keep a foreign residence, and State Department guidance says that filing for permanent residency does not disqualify them from obtaining an O visa. Only the H-1B and L-1 visa categories have true "dual intent", meaning that there is no requirement at all to plan to stay in the United States temporarily. But the temporary intent requirement for O-1 visas is softened quite a bit. This makes the O-1 visa attractive for someone who does not have strong, continuing ties to her home country. We do recommend that the intent issue be discussed with an attorney before making travel plans.
  • If an individual qualifies for an O-1 visa, they may be qualified to petition for permanent residency based on Extraordinary Ability, which does not require a permanent job offer and also bypasses the lengthy labor certification process.

 

WHAT ARE THE CHALLENGES FACING A MEDICAL RESIDENT SEEKING AN O VISA?

The O-1 visa can be a tough fit for residents for the following reasons:

  • Research is not the primary focus of a medical residency. And it is easier to apply for the O-1 visa based on research because there are more straightforward metrics - such as number of publications, citations, etc. MD/Ph.D. students or those who have done significant research before clinical training have an advantage.

  • The O-1 standard is very high, requiring “sustained national or international acclaim in the field.” Medical residents are, by definition, at the beginning of their careers. This means proving “sustained acclaim” can be an uphill battle.

 

WHAT CAN I DO TO STRENGTHEN MY PETITION FOR AN O VISA?

There are a few things you can start working on now, in anticipation of wanting an O-1 visa in a year or so:

  • An O-1 visa can be done for almost any field from juggling to cooking. For a clinical doctor, the O-1 will take more creativity. Some metrics could be having been chosen by a company as part of a test or demonstration of a new technique, device or drug, being invited to write or speak, peer reviewing, etc. Considering the O-1 early is extremely helpful so that evidence of acclaim can be gathered.

  • Make an effort to publish and present your research. Though it may not be your primary focus during your residency, your published research will be central to your O-1 petition.

  • Seek out opportunities to review the work of your peers. In most scientific disciplines, peer review is an easy criterion to meet for the O-1. If you do not have the chance to review for journals or conferences, consider seeking out these opportunities within your hospital – like evaluating medical students, residents, nurses, or reviewing the treatment of complex cases.

  • Save all documentation of independent interest in your research, including emails about a good presentation or paper, positive peer review comments papers, and anything that shows someone else in your field has been influenced by your work.

  • Network with independent people in your field at conferences or even talks at your own hospital. Sometimes it can be difficult for medical residents to assemble a list of referees that includes independent experts. This process generally goes more smoothly if someone has established a wide reaching network.

  • Keep track of anyone who is citing your research in noteworthy ways, so reference letters can be specific about who is using your work and how, outside of your own institution.

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