U.S. Immigration Options for Physicists


There are numerous immigration avenues available for well-qualified international professionals in physics. This guide discusses various temporary nonimmigrant visa options and permanent immigrant visa routes for obtaining green cards.


Temporary Nonimmigrant Visas

The H-1B Specialty Occupation visa would be the first to review for professionals with degrees in roles that customarily require a Bachelor’s degree or higher in physics or a related field.

Below are some jobs in physics that would generally be eligible for an H-1B visa:

  • Physicists – Experts who explore and understand various physical phenomena, from subatomic particles to vast galaxies.
  • Astrophysicists – These specialists apply principles of physics and mathematics to understand the interactions and behaviors of celestial bodies.
  • Medical Physicists – Professionals who apply physics concepts in medicine, primarily in the field of radiation therapy for cancer treatment.
  • Geophysicists – Experts who study the physical aspects of the Earth to locate natural resources or understand natural hazards.
  • Nuclear Physicists – These physicists focus on how atomic nuclei behave and interact, with applications ranging from energy production to medical technologies.

This visa category usually involves an annual cap, necessitating participation in a lottery. Exemptions to this lottery include roles at universities, university-affiliated institutions, nonprofit research organizations, or government research organizations, where many physics professionals are often employed.

For physics professionals from Singapore and Chile (H-1B1 visa) and Australia (E-3 visa), the requirements are similar to the H-1B without the lottery and can bypass USCIS.

The role of “Physicist” is also designated in the US-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), making it eligible for the Trade NAFTA (TN) visa, generally restricted to degree-holding professionals from Canada and Mexico. Applicants who possess substantial theoretical knowledge and practical experience in physics may qualify under “Scientific Technicians or Technologists,” working in direct support of a Physicist.

E-1 Treaty Investor and E-2 Treaty Investor entities can sponsor managerial and essential skills employees with a Bachelor’s degree in physics or a closely related field.

As less common pathways, physicists transferring to the U.S. from an affiliated company outside of the U.S. may be eligible for an L-1 Intracompany Transferee visa.  The O-1 Extraordinary Ability and Achievement visa is another avenue for extraordinary physicists. Finally, the J-1 Cultural Exchange visa offers training opportunities for up to 18 months, potentially bridging the gap while an H-1B visa is sought in the lottery or as part of a long-term green card strategy.


Green Card Pathways

Permanent residency based on employment often starts with a PERM Labor Certification from the U.S. Department of Labor. Following certification of the PERM, an employer can sponsor the beneficiary for permanent residency, on the basis of which the international physics professional can apply for permanent residency. This process does not grant interim immigration status or permission to stay in the U.S. while pending, so maintaining a valid temporary nonimmigrant visa is essential if the physics professional is required in the U.S. sooner.

Other possible routes to a green card include EB-1 Extraordinary Ability or EB-2 National Interest Waiver, particularly for those with significant achievements such as patents or extensive peer-reviewed research with many publications.


The above is informational and not intended to be legal advice. Please consult with an experienced business immigration attorney on your specific facts and circumstances before proceeding with any U.S. immigration strategy.