The new immigration reform bill may have a positive effect on doctor shortages in underserved areas in the U.S. It will make it easier for foreign physicians who come to the U.S. for medical residencies to stay here after their training is complete and serve for three years in areas where they are most needed.
The bill allows more visas to be allocated for certain categories of students and workers but it specifically steers physicians to a visa process that would include time in underserved areas such as rural America. “The [bill] is not trying to recruit plastic surgeons in Central Park,” said Adolph Falcon, senior vice president for the National Alliance for Hispanic Health. If Congress approves the plan, it may make it harder for immigrant doctors to become permanent U.S. residents, depending on what kind of visa they get and where they end up working. Critics of the proposal say it may not do that much to address physician shortages especially as the demand goes up as coverage expands under the health law.
There are two kinds of visas that foreign doctors can get: An H-1B visa for specialty workers or a J-1 visa, which is an education or cultural visa. The H-1B visa is well-known and widely used in the tech industry. It is a smoother path to permanent U.S. residency. The immigration bill is looking to raise the H-1B caps from 65,000 to 110,000 annually and although not all of these would go to physicians, it would give more opportunities for doctors to obtain these visas. Doctors will be eligible to apply for the visa to stay in the U.S. legally right away and the process would be made more efficient under the bill. However, there is a downside including fees for hospitals which come out to be about $1500 per medical resident with the H-1B visa.
With the J exchange student visa, these doctors would still be required to return to their home country for at least two years after completion of their training. They can later decide if they want to seek permanent U.S. immigration status. If they would rather not go home, under current law, they can stay in the U.S. as long as they agree to work in medically underserved areas for at least three years.
There is a shortage of doctors in nearly 6,000 areas in the U.S., resulting in higher than 3500 people per primary-care physician. The Health Resources and Services Administration says it would take about 7550 more doctors to eliminate the shortages in these areas. The new immigration bill is attempting to address these shortages by offering more visas and eliminating strict caps on how many people can immigrate to the U.S. each year.
If you have questions regarding the new immigration reform and/or how physicians might apply for a visa, contact us at 314-961-8200 or visit our contact page.