Disclaimer: This post strives to offer the simplest interpretation of the new USCIS ruling and its implication to foreign trained Physical Therapists. This post aims to convey the opinion and interpretation of the author and not anyway made to endorse a certain deployment or employment agency or other similar company. The main purpose of this post is to bring general information to the public especially the Filipino Physical Therapists in relation the author’s advocacies. Moreover, this post only interprets the general requirements of the 51 states which are the most important or very foundational. Each state still has additional or unique requirements but those should be taken care of or worried about after you have passed through the first level which is to be able to get the chance to work in the USA.
Last year has been a roller coaster ride for foreign trained Physical Therapists as the USCIS passed the new rule stating that an applicant coming from outside the United States should have a Masters degree as the minimum educational attainment for application. This was Sept 16, 2016, if my memory serves me right. Few months after this, they published added requirements, forcing therapists to take Doctor of Physical Therapy or DPT in order for their Visa application to be possible even if they have passed the NPTE already. That certificate is called the TYPE 1 Visa Certificate that shall be given only by FCCPT if you have DPT and this certificate is actually your major requirement as a foreign trained Physical Therapist to be able work and earn in the USA. This put a streak on a lot of individuals aiming to work in the United States. Many of the on-going applications were put on hold because of the new changes. Those applying for Type 1 Certificate were refunded of their application fees. This created chaos among the increasing number of Filipino PT licensed graduates here in the Philippines. Many PT’s especially the ones who belong to the Millenial generation started shifting to other careers although the silver lining of this was it opened our eyes that it was not only the USA that can give us PT jobs but other countries as well like Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the Middle East where the requirements are less stringent but can give equal quality of life. Adversity creates opportunity, indeed. But I knew from the very start would be a significant change after that blistering rule last year. My personal analysis was if the US citizens would be monopolizing the PT industry there and there’s a need for them to study 7-8 years of Doctor of PT with around 50-100 thousand USD of tuition fee every year and would subject themselves through student loans, then inevitably, there would be a shortage of PT’s in the US regardless if some foreign trained have complied already with the DPT program. A lot of americans will not subject themselves studying for a long time with such high tuition fees. In the end, they would be needing the Foreign-Trained Physical Therapists. Let us be straight to the point: Physical Therapy is a “HIGHLY-SKILLED” profession that can’t be replaced by just any other profession if there’s a shortage. It is fundamentally needed in Medicine wherever you are. Physical Rehabilitation (Occupational, Physical, Respiratory, Language Therapy) belongs to Tertiary or Restorive or Rehabilitative Prevention by WHO and if we are not there then the WHO’s three levels of Health Prevention are not complete. That is why we are and shoud be respected and highly regarded.
Months after the new ruling, The USCIS re-authorized the Foreign Credentialing Commission on Physical Therapy to issue the Health care workers (Type I) Certificate for immigration. Included in this change are some minor tweaks that the applicant should follow in order for them to get the Type I Certificate. Included in the latest published update, the USCIS is not mandating a minimum degree title or credits for accreditation as long as foreign trained physical therapist is able to demonstrate a level of education comparable to PT educated in the United States. The USCIS published the following guidelines in order to declare that the foreign education attained by the applicant is similar to that of a US educated PT.
1. An Applicant must have bachelor’s degree in Physical therapy. If the applicant was able to complete the bachelor’s degree, he/she must possess a master degree or higher in any subject.
2. The individual must meet and fulfil the new CWT6 tool
3. The new minimum total US semester credits is 210 as opposed to the 150 used in the CWT5. What is interesting here is that the professional units needed is still 90. What is the importance of this? This means that the remaining units can be filled by General subjects and education. The implication of this is that they can take the extra credit without taking the DPT or PT related course.
With these new rules come questions that might be bothering some of you. A lot of us might be wondering if the Philippine Physical Therapy Curriculum is equivalent to a masters program abroad. There are institutions (PT schools and universities) here in the Philippines that provide enough credits to be considered as Masters degree. To know if your Bachelor’s degree is equivalent to the Masters Degree, the simplest thing to do is ask your Dean about this. The definite for this is you have to apply your curriculum for review under the FCCPT (not the FSBPT, although FCCPT is actually owned by FSBPT.) The FCCPT is responsible to know if your curriculum is aligned to that of the US requirements. The FSBPT is the regulating body responsible for giving the NPTE, NPTAE and other examinations. FSBPT is the counterpart of Professional Regulation Commision of the Philippiines. The important part here is there is NO need for doctorate program anymore. Again, for TYPE 1 Work Visa Certificate to be given by FCCPT via the controlling body USCIS, there is not a need for a DPT degree. So if an agency tells you can not work in the US without such is actually wrong. You can get to the US first and think about the DPT after. The financial burden is one major concern here because many Filipino Therapists are often times under the mercy of the of this big money-making industry, being under these employment agencies for how many years of contract, half of their hourly salary usually goes to the agency for 3-5 years. This is a bitter truth and a reality. So agencies would sugarcoat a recruit saying that “we will take good care of your DPT program” is another burden because surely they will earn from this again. I have nothing again these US employment agencies because they are helping our profession, too. My only concern sometimes is when they make our colleagues feel that they owe a very high debt of gratitude (utang na loob) to them, well in fact, it should be the other way around. My personal advice? Haste makes waste. Don’t sign up just because everyone is signing up in that agency. Do not forget the golden rule that The “uso or most common” is not always the best. Carefully study your options. Explore. Research. Ask from the different peole with expertise or vast experience especially those who are already in the USA. Most of the readers of this post are actually Millenials and you should not allow some agencies to take advantage of the fact that they can give you instant gratification. When things appear to be too good to be true, take a back seat and re-think.
Another question is , if there is really a need for masters degree? Is the applicant required to pursue post graduate studies directly related to Physical therapy? The answer for this is NO. If you have a masters degree EVEN outside the specific scope of our practice, that is still considered to be a plausible entry in your educational attainment. As long as you meet the 210 unit credits, that would be fine. So let’s say in my case, although I am an RPT already, my units in Nursing can be used to meet those credits since I am a double degree holder.
The added subjects as mentioned above can be filled by General subjects or non-Physical Therapy subjects. With this, you can get the additional units in ANY institution offering these classes, this means you can actually get these subjects from your OWN school or any school especially if it’s cheaper and more convenient for you.
The new guidelines are effective for applications for type 1 visa certification that are currently in review, pending, or is applied starting from April 1, 2017. This new ruling offer another opening for foreign trained physical therapist to continue their professional journey in the United States. With the re-authorization of USCIS to FCCPT to issue Type I certification, they are again giving therapists outside their country fair and equal opportunity to practice their profession in the United States of America.
This is definitely good news for all of the stakeholders especially the aspiring Therapists that do not hold a US citizenship. Mabuhay tayong lahat!!!