Amid the spike in death toll nearing 31,000 in the United States with over 6 lakh coronavirus cases, lawmakers of the country have asked the USCIC to waive off the restrictions put on medical professionals holding H-1B and J-1 visas, including Indians, that prevent them from providing medical care at locations other than those specifically approved for their immigration status.
A bipartisan group of 40 influential US lawmakers explained that medical professionals holding H-1B and J-1 visas are not permitted to provide medical care outside of specifically approved locations. In a letter to Ken Cuccinelli, Acting Director of the US Citizenship and Immigration Services, they called for waiving those restrictions during this public health emergency to increase the number of physicians available to respond to the pandemic.
The letter stated that the current public health crisis requires a robust and timely medical response that begins with getting physicians to the front lines. The lawmakers asserted that health care workers on H-1B and J-1 visas, including physicians in the Conrad State 30 program, which helps retain US-trained physicians who work in undeserved areas, area key resource in this process.
Since the H-1B visa is tied with the specific speciality for which they are issued, a doctor with this visa cannot be roped in for any other public health program or temporarily transferred or posted to other place. Hence, at at a time of public health emergency like the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, health officials are unable to use the services of these foreign doctors. On the other hand, many doctors from foreign countries training in the US are required to return to their home country for two years after their training has ended before they can apply for another visa or green card.
“State and local governments as well as health care providers have found that the site-specificity for work authorization has prevented physicians holding an H-1B or J-1 status from transferring to hospitals and facilities that are overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients or are experiencing staff shortages due to quarantine requirements,” said the letter signed by 27 members of the House of Representatives and Senators.
Urging to waive the the requirements of the 2015 Simeo guidance for health care providers, the lawmakers wrote, “Such a decision would give our nation’s health care providers the flexibility that is needed to mount an adequate response during this emergency. Doctors need to be able to act now to use their knowledge and training to save lives without fear of the loss of their immigration status.”
The letter said that H-1B visas are available to workers in specialty occupations, which includes licensed physicians. Hospitals and health care providers across the nation, and particularly those in rural regions, rely on this visa program to fill critical vacancies at their facilities.
(With PTI inputs)
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