Shifts in immigration policy in the wake of the war on terrorism have diminished the flow of foreign physicians into U.S. practices, particularly in medically underserved areas, according to a recent report by a Washington-based immigration policy group.
The report points out that the U.S. healthcare system heavily relies on foreign workers. It employs 1.1 million immigrants, who make up 13% of all healthcare providers. The foreign-born account for 25.2% of all U.S. physicians, 17% of nursing, psychiatric and home health aides, 15.8% of clinical laboratory technicians, 14.8% of pharmacists and 11.5% of registered nurses, according to the study. It was written by Rob Paral, adjunct faculty member in the sociology department at DePaul University in Chicago, for the American Immigration Law Foundation, a research arm of the American Immigration Lawyers Association trade group.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture in February 2002 withdrew as the primary sponsor of foreign-born physicians who were allowed to remain in the country after taking their residency training here under the J-1 visa program. After the USDA withdrawal, no federal program replaced it for 18 months, and when HHS launched a successor program in July 2003, it suspended the program a few months later, reopening it again only after tightening eligibility rules, the report said.
Under these new restrictions, HHS would only approve waivers from the most underserved areas and only for work in community health centers and rural clinics. In 2001, HHS and other federal agencies sponsored 525 waivers of medical school graduates. That number dropped to 386 by 2002.
The foundation does not take a policy position favoring relaxing immigration standards, Paral said. The report suggests the shortage of medical professionals could be met by increasing the number of positions for native-born candidates in U.S. medical training programs and by providing additional financial incentives to draw their graduates to underserved areas.
Editors note: This page brought to you by Modern Physician: Business news and information for physician executives, leaders and entrepreneurs. For more information, please visit modernphysician.com.