When President Donald Trump issued his “Travel Ban,” there were fears that the physician shortage in the U.S. would be exacerbated.  It has been reported that there is currently a deficit of 8,200 primary care physicians that will balloon to 94,700 by 2025 as the population ages.  For many years, many foreign physicians from Muslim-majority countries have been helping to fill the shortage of primary care physicians in the U.S. Those individuals may now be rethinking their plans due to fears of anti-immigrant sentiments and possible long delays in obtaining visas.

To exacerbate the problem, the Conrad 30 J-1 Waiver Program will expire on April 28th if it is not renewed.  More than 15,000 physicians have participated in the Conrad 30 program that allows foreign physicians to remain in the U.S. after completion of their clinical medical training without having to fulfill the two-year home residence requirement, as long as they agree to work in federally designated underserved areas for at least three years.  Upon obtaining these Conrad 30 waivers, physicians then change to H-1B visa status to commence their employment.  Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Susan Collins (R-ME) and Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) have introduced bipartisan legislation to extend and improve the program to increase the number of physicians in those areas.

The Conrad State 30 & Physician Access Act would:

  • Extend the program to 2021;
  • Allow for more than 30 (“Conrad 30”) slots for doctors per state;
  • Provide work authorization for spouses of physicians in the programs; and
  • Provide contractual protections to the physicians by prohibiting non-compete agreements and spelling out medical malpractice coverage.

The American Medical Association strongly supports the bill, stating that:  “Many communities, including rural and low-income urban areas, struggle to attract physicians to meet their patient needs.  This legislation will help to ensure continued access to care in medically underserved communities across the U.S.  The American Hospital Association has urged “swift action to extend [the] program.”

The travel ban and the possible suspension of the Conrad 30 program are not the only issues affecting the number of foreign physicians in the U.S. The USCIS’ suspension of premium processing for H-1B visa petitions is complicating the problem because it is delaying the start dates for physicians to begin serving patients and communities in these underserved areas.  Senators Klobuchar, Collins and Heitkamp also sent a letter to the USCIS asking the agency to continue premium processing of H-1B petitions for physicians to begin their post-waiver employment.  Medical associations would also like to see medical professionals exempted from the H-1B cap.

As the end of April approaches and a possible government shutdown looms, we will continue to follow events in Congress.

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Photo of Forrest G. Read IV Forrest G. Read IV

Forrest Read is a Principal in the Raleigh, North Carolina, office of Jackson Lewis P.C. He has extensive experience in both business immigration law and employment law and has particular focus in legal issues in graduate medical education (GME).

Mr. Read’s immigration practice…

Forrest Read is a Principal in the Raleigh, North Carolina, office of Jackson Lewis P.C. He has extensive experience in both business immigration law and employment law and has particular focus in legal issues in graduate medical education (GME).

Mr. Read’s immigration practice focuses on assisting employers in obtaining employment-based nonimmigrant visas (e.g., H-1B, L, O, TN) for foreign national employees and work-related immigrant (green card) visas, including PERM Labor Certifications, and advising employers on compliance with U.S. immigration laws and regulations. He has broad experience in advising large, mid-size and small employers on their various immigration needs and developing strategies to help them navigate through complex immigration issues. He also has particular experience in counseling employers in the health care industry and addressing immigration-related issues that arise for their broad range of health care professional employees (including advising on and obtaining employment authorization for medical residents and fellows and obtaining J-1 visa waivers for foreign national physicians completing their medical training in the United States). His immigration practice also includes defending employers in connection with Department of Labor H-1B and H-2B investigations.

Mr. Read’s employment law experience includes representing management, particularly academic medical centers in the GME context, in a wide array of workplace disputes and litigation before federal and state courts and administrative agencies, including matters related to discrimination, retaliation, harassment, disability, family and medical leave, various wage and hour issues, contracts, and intentional torts. He advises academic medical centers on the interplay between applicable academic law and employment law and the ramifications of what are divergent legal requirements and standards. Mr. Read also provides counsel with respect to the legal impact of competency standards for residents and trainees in GME, including situations involving discipline, remediation, and dismissal. He provides advice and guidance in the peer review process, including provision of verification and assessment of training in response to third party inquiries.

As a member of the Firm’s Corporate Diversity Counseling group, Mr. Read also has experience in providing assessments and making recommendations to corporate and institutional clients with respect to diversity and inclusion policies and initiatives, conducting related internal investigations, and shaping, developing and enforcing effective policies and initiatives to ensure consistency with client values and in furtherance of business goals and objectives.