Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Changes in visa program leaves foreign-born doctors in limbo, rural areas without a physician

Trump administration changes to the visa program have made it difficult for rural areas with doctor shortages to hire foreign-born physicians, Michael Ollove reports for Stateline. In March Trump suspended "the 15-day expedited process to obtain an H-1B visa that allows U.S. employers to temporarily employ foreign-born workers in specialty fields such as medicine and information technology," leaving many doctors in limbo as they await visas that might not come and has left many rural areas without a much-needed doctor.

"The American Medical Association says there are about 230,000 foreign-born doctors treating patients in the U.S., or about a quarter of the physician workforce," Ollove writes. Data also show that the U.S. is projected to face a shortage of as many as 94,700 physicians by 2025. (Stateline map: Doctors in the H-1B visa program)
An April study in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that federal officials granted permission for nearly 10,500 physician jobs to be filled by foreign-born doctors with H-1B visas in 2016, Ollove notes. "Because of limitations in federal data, the study counted the number of approved jobs rather than the number of physicians with H-1B status. An employer has to first win approval to hire a foreigner and then the foreigner has to apply for the visa."

For the first time in five years, the number of applicants this year for H-1B visas dropped below 200,000, Ollove writes. "Immigration experts say it’s too soon to attribute that drop to Trump’s policies or anti-immigrant and refugee rhetoric in the U.S."

"Trump has made it clear he wants to restrict immigration, and his administration has promised greater scrutiny of the H-1B program," Ollove writes. "Immigration advocates worry that Trump’s review of the H-1B program might lead to fewer visas, but they also acknowledge that the president has highlighted problems that need fixing. In 2015, about 113,600 H-1B visas were issued. More than half, 85,000, were chosen by lottery. Medical residents, as well as doctors who work at nonprofit research institutions, universities and government research facilities, are not subject to the lottery and there is no cap on how many of them can receive visas in a year."

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