Monday, May 14, 2018

Visa review puts rural America at risk of losing more doctors

Physician Bhupinder and his wife Jasmine, a medical student,
with their daughter. (Post-Dispatch photo by Sharon Mai)
Changes to the guest-worker visa program are doing more than hurting small businesses and farms: they could also take doctors away from rural areas that already face a doctor shortage. President Trump signed an executive order last April aimed at preventing fraud and abuse of work visas that allow foreigners to replace American workers. "This April, the Trump administration announced that the spousal visa of H-1B visa holders will be eradicated, effectively making the H-4 dependent spouses not able to seek employment or run businesses," Sharon Mai, Sudipto Maity, and Ranojoy Saha report for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

H-1B visas allow highly skilled foreigners, about 70 percent of them Indians, to work in hard-to-fill fields such as rural medicine for up to three years. Physicians were once barred from obtaining temporary work visas, but Congress allowed the practice in 1991. The number of American physicians hasn't kept up with demand; a recent study by the Association of American Medical Colleges predicted the U.S. will face a shortage of between 40,800 and 104,900 physicians by 2030, the Post-Dispatch reports.

But the H1-B program may become far less desirable if foreign physicians' spouses can't also work. Khorzad Mehta, a Maryland attorney who works with immigrant physicians, advised that the U.S. must make green cards more readily available to foreign physicians to keep them in medically under-served areas of the U.S. Because Indian physicians are in the same category as information-technology and finance professionals, it can take up to 15 years to get a green card.

A Missouri immigrant physician named Bhupinder, who asked that his last name not be used, said "You're not taking away somebody's job by coming on H-1B as a physician . . . You're not hurting the country, you're taking care of people." His wife Jasmine, a medical student, could lose her visa under the new rule.

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