Visa waiver program expansion seen as remedy to doctor shortage

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Amid a shortage of thousands of primary care doctors, an outdated system has blocked immigrant doctors’ pathways to long-term employment in the United States, House lawmakers will hear from health experts on Tuesday.

“For many international doctors, the path to permanent residency will take decades, stretching their careers, limiting our professional mobility and jeopardizing the immigration status of our children,” says Raghuveer Kura, nephrologist and founder of Physicians for American Healthcare Access. tell the House Subcommittee on Immigration and Citizenship in written testimony released ahead of the hearing.

Kura and other witnesses will urge lawmakers at the hearing to expand a program that places immigrant doctors in underserved areas, among other measures to incentivize such workers to take jobs the United States is struggling to fill. They will also urge lawmakers to pass legislation tackling green card backlogs and providing permanent status to recipients of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival to help them get jobs in the care sector. health.

The Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted an ongoing challenge for the US healthcare system: it is not training enough primary and specialty physicians to meet the needs of the population. However, thousands of immigrant doctors who train through residency programs in the United States every year face serious obstacles to staying in the country and helping to alleviate the shortage. And this despite lobbying from hospital groups and immigrant advocates throughout the pandemic.

The US immigration system “is suboptimal at best in its ability to attract and retain the most talented physicians in the world to treat and care for Americans,” Kristen Harris, an attorney at Harris Immigration Law LLC, will tell lawmakers.

Serving the most needy areas

Most foreign physicians come to the United States via J-1 exchange visas or H-1B “specialty occupation” visas. But there are a limited number of H-1B slots available each year, and J-1 visa holders are subject to a two-year requirement that they return to their home country before they can apply to states for permanent status. -United.

Doctors like Kura, who practices in Poplar Bluff, Mo., can circumvent this requirement by opting for service-based waivers, such as the Conrad 30 Waiver program, which allows doctors to stay in the United States if they practice in federally designated health professionals. deficit or underserved areas.

The program has brought 15,000 physicians to underserved communities over the past 15 years, said David J. Skorton, president and CEO of the Association of American Medical Colleges, in his written testimony.

Yet waiver limits for the program, currently set at 30 slots for each state, have not been raised in decades. The AAMC and immigration advocates are lobbying Congress to pass reauthorization legislation (HR 3541, S.1810) that would base the number of slots available in the Conrad program on demand in each state.

These advocates are also calling for the passage of the Health Care Worker Resilience Act (HR 2255, S.1024), which would collect unused immigrant visas and designate 25,000 for nurses and 15,000 for doctors. Despite bipartisan support, the bill has not advanced in the past two legislative sessions.

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