H1B US visa doctors allowed to practice telemedicine

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Comments by Sanwar Ali:

The US visa system is very restrictive, and the H1B visa category in particular is tightly regulated.  You need to obtain a “prevailing wage” and certified “Labor Condition Application” from the Department of Labor before submitting an H1B visa petition.  Many employers are not cap exempt and so come under the annual quota of 85,000 visas, which means that usually there is a big shortage of H1B visas.  The concession for medical doctors will be welcome. 

There are also rumours that there will be a temporary 60 day suspension of H1B visas and other non-immigrant work visas for other areas of the economy, which will cause disruption at a time when businesses are trying to recover from the coronavirus lockdown.

In the ongoing battle against coronavirus, United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has given permission for H1B visa holding doctors to practice telemedicine. The decision comes amid surging demand for healthcare professionals during the pandemic and to ease the strain on local hospitals.

The US has been worst hit by the coronavirus, with cases approaching 1.5 million and the death toll close to reaching 90,000.

The new guidelines outlined by USCIS will give hospitals greater flexibility to meet the need for medical treatment during the COVID-19 crisis. The updated legislation comes following the intervention of a group of bipartisan lawmakers, who urged USCIS to allow qualified doctors with a H1B visa to practice telemedicine.

Medical facilities rely on H1B visa medical staff

The changes will be particularly beneficial in rural areas, where medical facilities rely heavily on the H1B visa programme to employ people for critical job vacancies.

Republican Congressman, John Katko, said: “As a result of this advocacy, the USCIS changed its policy, enabling doctors with the H1B visas to practice telemedicine and permitting them to transfer to overwhelmed facilities. In our community’s time of need, we must ensure our healthcare providers are fully empowered to treat patients in our region.”

Meanwhile, the American Dentist Association (ADA), recently urged the federal government to extend its current 60-day grace period to 180 days for unemployed or furloughed dentists who hold a US H1B visa.

ADA President, Chad P. Gehani, and ADA Executive Director, Kathleen T. McLoughlin wrote in a letter to Joseph Edlow, deputy director for policy at USCIS that “dentists who are in the United States on H1B visas are worried that they may lose their status and be forced to go back to their home country.”

“This will prevent them from returning to the important work of improving the oral health of Americans when dental offices reopen,” the letter added.

The US Department of Labor and the Department of Homeland Security do not keep a record of the number of US dentists who hold a H1B visa. However, the ADA estimates that there are 1,200 dentists with H1B visas in the United States.

The letter sent to the deputy director for policy at USCIS went on to say “during the COVID-19 pandemic, many dental offices are closed or are only seeing emergency patients. They are doing so in order to slow community spread, preserve medical supplies, and relieve emergency departments from seeing dental patients. As a result, dentists are being furloughed or laid off through no fault of their own.”

Don’t ban H1B visas

Recent reports indicate that the Trump administration is planning to introduce a ban on US temporary work visas, which includes the H1B visa. However, Washington-based think tank the Cato Institute, has urged the President not to suspend the H1B visa programme.

A statement from the Cato Institute, said: “Halting the H1B visa system will do enormous harm to the portion of our immigration system most like the merit-based system supported by President Donald Trump in healthier times. For the sake of American innovation, don't close the H1B visa.”

Elsewhere, a number of companies are reportedly trying to rush through H1B visa extensions for thousands of migrant workers.  A number of fortune 500 companies are rushing federal agencies to extend H1B visas as the government squabbles over visa restrictions.

Facebook recently requested and got ‘continuing approval’ from USCIS to extend H1B visas for 611 of its staff, while Apple was given approval for 647 extensions, Microsoft 903 and Amazon was granted 1,245 extensions.

Trump is being urged to close off visa programmes by certain groups.  According to an analysis by the anti-immigration Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) based on data issued by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, American workers and legal and illegal immigrants have suffered huge job losses due to the pandemic.

An excerpt from the CIS analysis read: “The unemployment rate for native-born Americans jumped to 14 per cent in April 2020, up from 3.8 per cent in February before COVID-19. Among immigrants, the rate was 16.4 per cent in April, up from 3.6 per cent in February.

There were 18.2 million unemployed natives and 4.3 million unemployed immigrants in April, a 250 per cent increase for the native-born and 320 per cent increase for immigrants since February, according to the CIS report.

Coronavirus in the US

As of May 21, coronavirus cases in the US had reached 1,593,039 with 94,941 deaths recorded. US President, Donald Trump, recently said he considers it a ‘badge of honor’ that the US has the most cases in the world because it shows the amount of testing taking place in the United States.

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