The U.S. is lifting suspension of visas for physicians. But Dreamers still fear deportation.
The U.S. needs doctors, nurses, and other medical personnel now more than ever. Many foreign medical professionals are interested in working in the U.S., but they might face complications.
Although U.S. consulates have been closed for visa applications, they have very recently reopened to allow medical practitioners to apply for visas. At the same time, Dreamers who work in healthcare fear being deported because of their inability to file for a DACA renewal. Many dreamers whose status is about to expire don’t know if they will be able to apply for a renewal because USCIS offices are now closed.
U.S. Embassies are re-opened for foreign physicians
On March 20, the State Department suspended visa services at all U.S. Embassies and Consulates. This decision was criticized by the Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates (ECFMG), an organization that is the sole J-1 visa sponsor for foreign national physicians.
Many medical professionals, already matched into residencies, were ready to start in July in the U.S. Now, they are unable to obtain visas to come to the U.S. According to Medscape, there are 4,222 such graduates.
On March 26, the Government reopened consulates for medical professionals with a special focus on those who can treat COVID-19 patients.
There are still some open questions. ECFMG is discussing the possibility of relaxing the entry procedure, allowing all healthcare professionals to obtain a visa and enter the U.S. The program enables entry on July 1st, but the 14-day quarantine would delay their start.
A J-1 visa still needs to be endorsed by the home country of the applicant, which is uncertain given the current global lack of medical staff. In the Philippines, for example, the Labor Secretary has issued an order to strictly limit deployment of medical personnel abroad.
Visas – What you should know
If you are a medical professional with an approved visa petition I-129, I-140, or similar or a certificate of eligibility in an approved exchange visitor program (DS-2019), contact the nearest U.S. Embassy and request a visa appointment. In case you need to verify foreign qualification, ECFMG offered to temporarily provide verification of qualifications and licensing credentials for foreign physicians at no cost.
If you are currently in the U.S. on a J-1 Alien Physician’s visa, you have the possibility to extend your program. Extension will be granted for one year at a time for a maximum of seven years.
For more visa information, consult the web site of the State Department.
DREAMERS are doctors, too…
There are about 27,000 health care professionals in the DACA program. Many of them are helping fight the coronavirus pandemic. Their situation is now uncertain. If their status is about to expire, renewal seems problematic. USCIS offices are closed for in person applications and biometric data collection.
Before the pandemic started, President Trump decided to end the DACA program. His decision is currently under judicial scrutiny. However, The Supreme Court in November indicated that the court might decide in favor of the Administration.
But the world has changed dramatically.
Many perceive that ending the program now in the middle of the pandemic would have far reaching consequences, leaving many without status thereby limiting the number of healthcare professionals.
A filing from March 27 urges the Supreme Court to keep the DACA program for healthcare professionals. Arguing that the “termination of DACA during this national emergency would be catastrophic.”
It must be noted that the DACA program has strict rules. Applicants must prove, among other, that they have not been convicted of a felony, significant misdemeanor, or three or more other misdemeanors, and do not otherwise pose a threat to national security or public safety. The status doesn’t provide a path to citizenship, or even to a green card. It simply prevents a foreigner from being deported.
Oral arguments on the issue were scheduled at the end of March, but have been suspended due to the pandemic.
American Association of International Healthcare Recruitment estimates that 12,000 nurses from the Philippines and other countries are ready to start working in the U.S., if they get the visa. More than 4,000 physicians are ready to start their residencies in July, if they get a visa, and approximately 12,000 foreign physicians work at teaching hospitals throughout the U.S. And 27,000 health care professionals are DACA recipients who would be eliminated from the workforce if their status is not renewed.
If there is ever a time to lose over 50,000 doctors, nurses and other health care professionals, now is not the time to do so.