For the nation's healthcare industry, the legislation includes significant provisions that would make it easier for physicians, nurses and allied health professionals to work in the U.S.
“We think the bill that will go to the Senate floor is very positive for American-trained, foreign physicians,” said Samantha Burch, vice president of legislation and health information technology at the Federation of American Hospitals.
Included is a provision that would permanently reauthorize the Conrad 30 Waiver program, which allows state health agencies to recommend up to 30 waivers a year that exempt physicians on a J-1 visa from returning to their home country for two years. The legislation would also increase the number of waivers a state receives, and it would allow academic medical centers to receive three additional waivers.
Also, the annual cap on the number of H-1 B visas for foreign workers in specialty occupations would increase to 110,000 from its current 65,000. While most physician visa holders use the J-1, many use the H-1 B visa. The bill also addresses the H1-B's “cap gap issue.”
As Burch explained, residency fellowships typically end in June, but new H1-B applications aren't available until Oct. 1. “So it basically prevents a gap in work start dates and prevents America from losing American-trained physicians to countries with more attractive immigration policies,” Burch said.
The bill also includes a provision to increase the number of employment-based green cards, which Burch said would be especially helpful to nurses and allied health workers, such as physical therapists and occupational therapists.