Hospitals 'rushing' to obtain accelerated visas for foreign medical students

Some of the 3,814 non-U.S. citizens who graduated from foreign medical schools and were accepted into U.S. residency programs may face delays starting their rotations after the suspension of a government program allowing U.S. employers the opportunity to fast-track visa applications took effect Monday, according to STAT.

Under the "premium processing" program, employers could request the government fast-track a H-1B visa application in 15 days for a fee of $1,225 per applicant. Traditional visa evaluations may take more than six months, on average, to complete. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services reportedly suspended the program to allow USCIS staff to evaluate applications placed on backlog, since premium processing applications are evaluated first, according to the report.

While the agency initially announced the suspension of the program last month, physicians seeking residency opportunities in the U.S. did not find out whether they had been placed at a U.S. hospital until "Match Day" March 17, leaving hospitals and health systems in the lurch to fast-track the applications of incoming residents before the April 3 deadline.

International medical residents may also apply for a J-1 visa, which is used for those entering the U.S. for "cultural or educational exchange opportunities," according to the report. However, the J-1 visa requires individuals to return to their home country for at least two years after completing their training.

The suspension comes on the heels of three executive orders President Donald Trump signed in January that imposed a temporary travel ban on individuals from a handful of Muslim countries, including Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Iran, Somalia, Libya and Yemen. The executives orders have been blocked by a number of federal judges.

Some medical professionals worry the USCIS's suspension of the expedited visa program may exacerbate staffing issues at hospitals across the country.

"There are a lot of areas in the U.S. where [hospitals and health systems] can't find qualified physicians to provide care," Alex Jahangir, MD, medical director of the Nashville, Tenn.-based Vanderbilt Center for Trauma, Burn and Emergency Surgery, told Becker's Hospital Review. "Rural environments and some underserved communities [are struggling] to find representation in all specialties, and now you're getting rid of a potential pipeline of very smart foreign medical graduates that have historically been taking those underserved areas because that's the method by which they can get a green card."

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