J-1 Visa Physician Program: Alien Physician Program

J-1 Visa Physician Program: Alien Physician Program

The Alien Physician program under the J-1 visa allows foreign physicians to participate in U.S. graduate medical education programs or training at accredited U.S. schools of medicine.

There are two types of exchange programs:

  • Clinical training in the “alien physician” category
  • Non-Clinical training in the “research scholar” category

Clinical Exchange Program

Foreign national physicians, also referred to as foreign medical graduates (FMGs) or international medical graduates (IMGs), are categorized as alien physicians, and they must:

  • Have adequate prior education and training to participate satisfactorily in the program for which they are coming to the U.S.
  • Have competency in oral and written English
  • Be able to adapt to the educational and cultural environment in which they will be receiving their education and training
  • Have the background, needs, and experiences suitable to the program
  • Have passed either Parts I and II of the National Board of Medical Examiners Examination, the Foreign Medical Graduate Examination (Step I and Step II), or the Visa Qualifying Examination (VQE) prepared by the National Board of Medical Examiners, administered by the Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates
  • Provide a statement of need from the government of the country of their nationality or last legal permanent residence. It should state that there is a need in that country for persons with the skills the alien physician seeks to acquire, and such written assurance should be provided to the Secretary of Health and Human Services.
  • An agreement or contract from a U.S. accredited medical school, an affiliated hospital, or a scientific institution that is intended to provide the accredited medical education, signed by the alien physician and the official responsible for the training.

Non-Clinical Exchange Program

Non-clinical exchange programs allow foreign national physicians to come to the U.S. for the purpose of observation, consultation, teaching, or research and may be sponsored by a U.S. university or academic medical center. They have to be designated by the U.S. Department of State to conduct an exchange visitor program in the category of a research scholar, provided:

  • The sponsor signs and appends to the Form DS-2019 a certificate which states, “This certifies that the program in which… is to be engaged is solely for the purpose of observation, consultation, teaching, or research and that no element of patient care is involved,” OR

    The dean of the involved accredited U.S. medical school or his designee must certify the following five points:
    • The program is predominantly observation, consultation, teaching, or research
    • Any incidental patient contact will be under the direct supervision of a U.S. citizen or resident alien physician who is licensed to practice medicine in the state in which the activity is taking place
    • The foreign national physician will not be given final responsibility for the diagnosis and treatment of patients
    • Any activities will confirm fully with the state licensing requirements and regulations for medical and health care professionals in the state in which the program is being pursued
    • Any experience gained will not be creditable towards any clinical requirements for a medical specialty board certification.

Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates – ECFMG

The U.S. Department of State has designed the Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates (ECFMG) as the only sponsor for all alien physicians who wish to pursue a program of graduate medical education or training.

EFCMG is required to verify that the foreign national physicians meet J-1 eligibility requirements. Upon establishing an applicant’s eligibility, ECFMG issues Form DS-2019, Certificate of Eligibility for Exchange Visitor (J-1) Status.


Host institutions are required to provide the J-1 physician with the approved clinical training. Each host institution designates a Training Program Liaison (TPL), who serves as the official representative to communicate with the ECFMG.

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