Bill looks to address dearth of underserved areas with foreign doctors
A bipartisan group of senators wants to address the need for doctors in rural and poor areas by increasing the number of foreign physicians allowed to practice in the U.S.
This week, Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), and Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) re-introduced legislation that would expand the number of physicians who could participate in the Conrad Waiver 30 program. They say a recently announced suspension of premium, expedited processing for some visa petitions would make physician shortages worse in rural areas.
The program allows each state to plead for up to 30 international medical graduates to extend their J-1 visas if they work for three years in a medically underserved area under a H-1B visa. Physicians can then apply for an immigrant visa or permanent residence after completing the program.
Physicians working in the U.S. on J-1 visas are required to return to their home country for a period of two years after they complete their residencies before they can apply for a green card. The Conrad 30 program , launched in 1994, allows for physicians to stay in the U.S. without having to return to their home country.
"It doesn't make sense to force doctors that we educate and train right here in the U.S. to leave our country once their residency is over," said Klobuchar in a written statement.
Lawmakers must reauthorize the program every few years. The program is set to expire April 28. The proposed bill would extend the program until 2021 and increases how many physicians participate in the program. The proposal also allows for spouses of doctors in the program to work in the U.S.
Reauthorization has normally passed with bipartisan support.
Since 2003, more than 15,000 physicians in the Conrad 30 program have filled gaps where there are shortages of healthcare providers.
Overall, foreign-born workers make up more than a quarter of the country's physician workforce and more than half of medical scientists in the biotechnology sector, according to a 2016 report by the Institute for Immigration Research at George Mason University.
International medical graduates are also more likely than their U.S.-born counterparts to work in medically underserved communities.
The changes to Conrad 30 come as the Trump adminstration temporarily halted expedited H1-B professional visas.
The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals next month will also hear a case over President Donald Trump's executive order that suspends travel to the U.S. for citizens from six Muslim-majority countries.
Providers have decried both moves as potentially hindering the flow of healthcare professionals seeking to practice medicine in the U.S.
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