U.S. Immigration Options for Therapists & Social Workers


Navigating the diverse array of U.S. immigration pathways can be complex, especially for professionals in specialized fields such as physiology, physical therapy, occupational therapy, recreational therapy, and social work. This article outlines the key visa options available to therapists from various countries, detailing both nonimmigrant (temporary) and immigrant (permanent) pathways.


Temporary Nonimmigrant Visas

Trade NAFTA (TN) Visa for Canadian and Mexican Social Workers and Therapists

Under the U.S. – Mexico – Canada Agreement (USMCA), previously known as NAFTA, Canadian and Mexican therapists—including Social Workers, Recreational Therapists, Occupational Therapists, Physical Therapists, and Physiotherapists—have a streamlined path to work in the U.S. The TN visa does not require licensure as a prerequisite to visa issuance, often making it more convenient and streamlined. Licensure requirements may be completed post-entry to the U.S., allowing therapists to commence employment in the U.S. more rapidly.

E-3 Visa for Australian Therapists & Social Workers

The E-3 visa is a specific category for Australian citizens entering the U.S. to engage in specialty occupations, which include various therapy roles. This visa type mirrors the H-1B but excludes the lottery system, offering a more direct application process. It requires a U.S. job offer in a specialty occupation and the completion of a Labor Condition Application (LCA).

H-1B1 Visa for Singaporean and Chilean Therapists & Social Workers

Similar to the E-3, the H-1B1 visa provides an opportunity for Singaporean and Chilean nationals to work in specialty occupations in the U.S., such as therapy roles. This visa also circumvents the H-1B lottery system, providing a more predictable pathway for qualified therapists from these countries.

H-1B Visa for Therapists & Social Workers from Other Countries

The H-1B visa serves as the standard professional visa for therapists from countries not covered by specific agreements like USMCA, E-3, or H-1B1. It is important to note that this visa requires the applicant to meet any state licensure requirements necessary to perform their role in the U.S. and is generally subject to an annual lottery.

E-1 and E-2 Visas for Therapists & Social Workers

Therapists who are essential skills employees working for trading (E-1) or investment (E-2) enterprises may qualify under these treaty visas if their company meets certain trade or investment thresholds. The business must be at least 50% owned by nationals of a treaty country, providing opportunities for therapists from these enterprises to work in the U.S.


Permanent Immigration Visas

PERM Labor Certification (EB-2, EB-3)

For social workers and therapists holding less than 5% ownership in their U.S. employer, the PERM Labor Certification offers a pathway to permanent residency. This process involves testing the U.S. labor market to demonstrate that there are no willing, able, and qualified U.S. workers available for the position, after which the employer may sponsor the therapist for an immigrant visa under the EB-2 or EB-3 categories.

Schedule A Group I

Physical Therapists generally have a faster pathway to permanent residency called “Schedule A” designation, which the Department of Labor (DOL) provides for certain occupations that have been identified as having a shortage of qualified workers in the United States. Physical therapists, as well as professional nurses, are listed under Schedule A, Group I, which means their U.S. employers can bypass the above referenced PERM Labor Certification process that is typically required for most employment-based green card applications. This can significantly streamline the application process for permanent residency.

National Interest Waiver (NIW) under EB-2

Highly skilled therapists and social workers who can demonstrate that their work has substantial merit and national importance may pursue a National Interest Waiver (NIW). A graduate degree or proof of “exceptional ability” would be required as NIW falls under the employment-based second preference (EB-2) immigrant classification. This pathway allows therapists to self-petition for permanent residency without an employer sponsor or a job offer, bypassing the PERM labor certification process as well.



For social workers and therapists exploring U.S. immigration options, a wide range of visas are available that cater to different nationalities and professional circumstances. Whether seeking temporary employment or permanent residency, therapists must navigate these pathways with careful consideration of their qualifications, licensure requirements, and the specific terms of each visa type. Review additional options on our Services page. Consulting with a knowledgeable immigration attorney can help clarify the best strategy based on individual career goals and legal requirements.


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.