US visa suspension lifted to boost coronavirus physicians

Sanwar Ali comment:

When there is an emergency, hardline anti-immigrant policies suddenly need to be changed.   Like other Countries around the World the US needs to have medical personnel urgently.  The extent of the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic has taken Governments around the World by surprise. 

Medical professionals under the J1 Exchange Visitor visa program and in other visa categories including immigrant Visitor visa categories, should now be able to gain entry to the US. The US J-1 Exchange visitor visa is a relatively quick and easy way to bring in medical workers quickly into the US.  We wonder if there will also be a concession in future to enable J1 Exchange visa holders to stay longer term in the US?

The US Department of State (DoS) has released new information indicating that the suspension on US visas will be lifted for non-US medical professionals trained overseas. The measure is aimed at boosting the frontline medical workforce fighting against the coronavirus.

The information published by the DoS follows an announcement made on March 18 that all immigrant and non-immigrant visa services would be suspended at US embassies and consulates around the world.

According to Medscape Medical News, the Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates (ECFMG) recently urged the State Department to lift the visa suspension. The ECFMG referred to 4,222 graduates of medical schools outside the US, who had been matched with residencies in America and were due to start on July 1, highlighting that many of them would be denied a visa needed to begin their training, if the suspension remained.

Department of State lifts US visa suspension for medical professionals

Following the ECFMG’s appeal, the DoS lifted the suspension. In a statement on the agency’s website, they said: “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.”

Guidance was also issued by the DoS for non-US medical professional already in America, which states: “J1 Alien Physicians (medical residents) may consult with their program sponsor, ECFMG, to extend their programs in the United States. Generally, a J1 program for a foreign medical resident can be extended one year at a time for up to seven years.”

The guidance adds: “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 can be found on the DoS website. Those who need to extend their stay or adjust their visa status must apply with USCIS (US Citizenship and Immigration Services).”

Complications despite US visa suspension lift

While ECFMG CEO, William W. Pinsky, MD, welcomed the announcement from the DoS, he told Medscape Medical News that a lot of questions remain unanswered.

He explained that J1 visas are typically granted just 30 days before a medical residency program begins, but travel to the US could be difficult, while physicians will likely need to be quarantined for 2 weeks once they’ve arrived in the US.

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

The ECFMG CEO warned that even when a J1 visa application has been filed, it still requires an endorsement from the physician’s home nation, but added that he did not know whether this would be a problem.

In response to New York’s recent appeal for more healthcare workers, Pinsky responded: “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,” the ECFMG CEO added.

Coronavirus infections and deaths in the US

Cases of coronavirus in the US have now exceeded China and Italy. 188,639 cases have been reported as of April 1, with 4,059 fatalities and New York hit hardest. However, more than 7,000 people have recovered from the disease.

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