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Physician Visa Waiver Program

Federal laws require foreign physicians seeking to pursue graduate medical education or training in the United States to obtain a J-1 exchange visitor visa to remain in the US until their studies are completed. Physicians must then return to their home country for at least two years before applying for immigration to the US, unless they meet the conditions of the J-1 Visa Waiver Program. This program is coordinated with the US Department of State and the Immigration and Naturalization Service. If a state department of public health supports a waiver, the US Department of State may allow the physician to stay in the country to work.


To increase access to primary health and mental healthcare in rural and urban communities that have shortages of primary care physicians and psychiatrists, by helping medical clinics recruit foreign physicians.

What We Do

We review and approve J-1 visa waiver applications to meet the state's changing healthcare needs.

Rhode Island Priority Physician Needs

  • Employment by community health centers, community mental health centers, state agencies, and academic medical centers.
  • Physicians in primary care, and those practicing obstetrics/gynecology, psychiatry, anesthesiology, or radiology.
  • Physicians who speak both English and Spanish.
  • Experience caring for under-served populations such as the uninsured, racial and ethnic minorities, and the elderly.
  • Physicians recruited for teaching and clinical roles through academic medical centers.


We do not act as a job placement agency. Our participation is completely discretionary and voluntary and may be modified or discontinued at any time. The Department reserves the right to recommend or decline any waiver request. The US Department of State limits the waivers to 30 per state per federal fiscal year (October 1 through September 30).

What Interested Foreign-Born Physicians Must Do

To get a waiver

  • To apply for a visa waiver, complete your advanced clinical training in an approved United States residency training program, agree to work in a medical shortage area for three years, and increase access to primary healthcare.
  • Meet all Rhode Island medical licensure requirements. more
  • Demonstrate a bona fide offer (e.g. copy of complete contract) of at least three years of full-time employment (40 hours per week) at a Rhode Island health facility, clinic, or private practice that accepts Medicaid/Medicare eligible patients, as well as medically indigent patients, in a geographic area designated as underserved. more
  • Not have a "non-compete" clause in an employment contract. (Waiver applications that include these contracts will not be approved.)
  • Agree to begin your employment within 90 days of receiving a waiver.
  • Have a US healthcare facility submit the request for waiver on your behalf. Gather required materials and have the facility follow the process outlined below to submit your application package.

When you are working with a waiver

  • Notify the Department in writing of any significant change in employment status (including position description or contract changes, amendments, revisions or replacements, or pursuit of alternate employment or reassignment to another state).
  • Submit copies of your W-2 forms to the Department, if requested.
  • Note that if you fail to fulfill the terms of your employment contract, you will not be eligible to apply for an immigrant visa or permanent residence unless you have returned to your home country for at least two years.


Requests for a waiver of the foreign residence requirement should be made by applicants or their attorneys directly to the Department of Health, Office of Primary Care and Rural Health. The application package must contain all required information and documentation in order, as well as the case number assigned by the US Department of State. Waiver requests that do not comply with these requirements will be returned to the submitting healthcare facility for revision. If the Physician Visa Waiver request is approved, the case file, along with necessary cover letters, is sent to the US Department of State. The complete state process may take up to 30 days.

Required Materials for Waiver Package

Please send one original package and one unbound copy of the entire package to the Program. All documents must include the case number assigned by the US Department of State.

  1. Letter from Employer: The head of the healthcare facility at which the physician will be employed must:
    • Request that the Rhode Island Department of Health act as an interested government agency and recommend a waiver for the J-1 physician;
    • Summarize the facility's attempts to locate qualified US physicians;
    • Describe the physician's qualifications, proposed responsibilities, and how he or she will satisfy important unmet healthcare needs of a medically underserved community; and
    • State unequivocally that the physician has been offered at least three years of employment in a job consistent with the Department's mission.
  2. Detailed description of the facility: Include the nature and extent of its medical services. Note that this can be included in the facility letter.
  3. Valid contract of employment with the facility for not less than three years.
  4. Proof of Need: Provide a list of the Health Care Professional Shortage Areas (HPSAs)/ Medically Under-Served Areas/Populations (MUA/MUPs) and documentation from state/local healthcare officials stating need for the services of the physician.
  5. Description of Recruitment/Retention Efforts: A statement describing recruitment efforts will suffice. Applications for community-based placements must also include a five year site review of prior J-1 placements. (e.g. five year review of prior J-1 placement(s) at the site and current employment of the physician. If a physician is no longer at the site, a brief explanation must be included.) Also submit a statement detailing the plans for the physician during the 3-year obligation.
  6. Qualifications: Proof of Rhode Island medical licensure eligibility.
  7. Curriculum Vitae for the physician.
  8. Proof of J-1 Visa Status: Include copies of all DS-2019 “Exchange Visitor Program Certificate of Eligibility For Exchange Visitor (J-1) Status” forms for the physician and any family members as required by Immigration and Naturalization Services (INS).
  9. Completed J-1 Visa Waiver Recommendation Application.
  10. Freedom from Obligations in Home Country: A statement from the physician of whether he or she is contractually obligated to return to their home country, and if so obligated, a statement of non-objection from the home government.
  11. Volunteer Hours: The applicant must show evidence of having volunteered in a professional capacity at least 4 hours per month.