The U.S. health care system is being exhausted as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to unfold. Our healthcare system depends on immigrant healthcare providers as much as their native-born colleagues. The expertise of immigrant healthcare providers plays a pivotal role in expanding healthcare services during COVID-19.
The U.S Department of State is urging medical professionals, particularly those working to treat or mitigate the effects of COVID-19, with an approved U.S. non-immigrant or immigrant visa petition (I-129, I-140, or similar) or a certificate of eligibility in an approved exchange visitor program (DS-2019) to review their nearest embassy or consulate’s website for procedures to request a visa appointment.
Additionally, J-1 physicians (medical residents) wishing to extend their programs in the United States should consult with the Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates to see whether they meet the eligibility requirements. Foreign medical residents under the J-1 program can generally extend their stay in one-year increments for up to 7 years.
According to the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), the United States was expected to have a shortage of “up to nearly 122,000 physicians by 2023,” prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. The expected shortfall can be, in large part, attributed to the aging U.S. population and their growing needs for medical care.
Immigrant physicians will have an even greater role in infusing the U.S. healthcare infrastructure as the COVID-19 pandemic intensifies. The U.S. State Department is right to encourage qualified healthcare workers from all parts of the world to find the procedures to request a visa appointment.
In light of this pandemic, USCIS should make every effort to relax restrictions and help healthcare providers enter the United States. This includes:
- loosening restrictions to allow doctors and physicians under H-1B to work at more than one medical facility;
- approving more O1 visas for doctors and physicians;
- prioritizing EB2/EB3 visas for schedule 1 occupations like nurses, which are backlogged for certain countries; and, finally,
- letting doctors and physicians under the TN visa spend more than 10% of their time with patients.
USCIS has the opportunity to help fight COVID-19 by taking additional measures to get more medical workers into the U.S. by expanding the H1-B program. Even though the cap was just reached, USCIS could select say 20,000 more applications that are specifically for medical workers.