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U.S. lifts visa halt to boost COVID-19 physician workforce


 

New information from the US State Department indicates that it is lifting the suspension on visas for foreign-trained medical professionals, a move that has promise for boosting the US physician workforce battling COVID-19.

The move may also help physicians extend their visas.

The communication late last week follows a March 18 announcement that, because of COVID-19, the United States was suspending routine processing of immigrant and nonimmigrant visas, including the J and H visas, at embassies and consulates worldwide.

As reported by Medscape Medical News, the Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates (ECFMG) appealed to the State Department to lift the suspension, noting that 4222 graduates of medical schools outside the United States who had matched into residencies in the United States and were ready to start on July 1 would not get the visas most of them need to begin training.

The State Department lifted the suspensions and issued this update:

“We encourage medical professionals with an approved US 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), particularly those working to treat or mitigate the effects of COVID-19, to review the website of their nearest embassy or consulate for procedures to request a visa appointment.”

The State Department also issued guidance for foreign medical professionals already in the United States:

“J-1 Alien Physicians (medical residents) may consult with their program sponsor, ECFMG, to extend their programs in the United States. Generally, a J-1 program for a foreign medical resident can be extended one year at a time for up to seven years.

“Note that the expiration date on a US visa does not determine how long one can be in the United States. The way to confirm one’s required departure date is here : https://i94.cbp.dhs.gov/I94/#/home.

“Those who need to extend their stay or adjust their visa status must apply with USCIS (US Citizenship and Immigration Services).”

Complications Still Exist

ECFMG’s CEO, William W. Pinsky, MD, told Medscape Medical News that, although they welcomed the news from the State Department, there are still unanswered questions.

ECFMG explained that J-1 visas are currently granted only 30 days before the residency program begins.

However, travel to the United States may still be difficult in June, Pinsky said, and physicians may need to be quarantined for 2 weeks upon arrival.

“We’re still having some discussion with the Department of State on whether that regulation could be relaxed and they could come in earlier,” he said.

He cautioned that even after a J-1 visa application is made, the physician’s home country has to endorse the application.

Pinsky said he did not yet know whether that would be a problem.

He also said that, in response to New York’s plea for more healthcare workers, ECFMG is offering to verify education and licensing credentials for physicians educated outside the United States at no cost.

Individual hospitals and regulatory authorities can decide whether there may be roles in some capacity for physicians who have graduated from medical school, even if they have not completed residency or have not been licensed, he said.

This article first appeared on Medscape.com.

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