April 15, 2020

Harris, Colleagues Urge Administration to Increase Number of Doctors Available to Fight the Coronavirus Pandemic

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Kamala D. Harris (D-CA) on Wednesday joined Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Representatives Tom Cole (R-OK-04), Abby Finkenauer (D-IA-01), and Brad Schneider (D-IL-10), along with colleagues in both the House and Senate, in writing to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) urging the Administration to waive restrictions that prevent doctors on certain employment-based visas—including doctors in the Conrad 30 program—from providing medical care at locations or in specialties other than those specifically approved for their immigration status. Without a waiver of these restrictions, doctors on H-1B and J-1 visas who provide care in crisis locations, even remotely, would be putting their immigration status in jeopardy.

“USCIS should immediately waive the requirements of the 2015 Simeio guidance for health care providers seeking changes in previously approved employment or new concurrent employment during the current public health emergency. 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 lawmakers wrote.

In addition to Harris and Klobuchar, the letter was signed by Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL), Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Angus King (I-ME), Tom Carper (D-DE), Ed Markey (D-MA), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Chris Coons (D-DE), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Tina Smith (D-MN), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Jacky Rosen (D-NV), Kevin Cramer (R-ND), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA).

In addition to Cole, Finkenauer, and Schneider, the letter was signed by Representatives Kendra Horn (D-OK-05), Bobby Rush (D-IL-01), Mike Gallagher (R-WI-08), Donna Shalala (D-FL-27), Eliot Engel (D-NY-16), Ron Kind (R-WI-03), John Katko (R-NY-24), Tony Cardenas (D-CA-29), Abigail Spanberger (D-VA-07), Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-IL-08), Xochitl Torres Small (D-NM-02), Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-DE-AL), Terri Sewell (D-AL-07), Anthony Gonzalez (R-OH-16), Bill Foster (D-IL-11), Frank Lucas (R-OK-03), David Trone (D-MD-06), Cindy Axne (D-IA-03), Albio Sires (D-NJ-08), Darren Soto (D-FL-09), Ken Calvert (R-CA-42), Adam Kinzinger (R-IL-16), Joe Kennedy (D-MA-04), Danny Davis (D-IL-07), David Price (D-NC-04), and John Larson (D-CT-01).

Currently, many doctors from other countries training in the United States 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. The Conrad 30 program allows doctors to stay in the United States without having to return home if they agree to practice in an underserved, often rural, area for three years. The “30” refers to the number of doctors per state that can participate in the program.

Full text of the letter can be found HERE and below:

Dear Mr. Cuccinelli:

We write to express our concern that regulations for the H-1B and J-1 visa programs are standing in the way of our nation’s having the strongest possible medical response to COVID-19. Medical professionals holding these visas are generally not permitted to provide medical care at locations or in specialties other than those specifically approved for their immigration status. We urge you to waive such restrictions during the public health emergency to increase the number of physicians available to respond to COVID-19.

As you know, 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. As part of the visa approval process, providers must submit to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Form I-129, which requires employers to identify where and for how long the visa holder will work for the duration of their status. Any changes require a new I-129 per guidance issued by USCIS in 2015.  Similarly, physician residents and fellows on J-1 visas are assigned to a specific employer, location, and specialty, and changes are practically impossible during an approved program year.

While these policies are well intended, the current public health crisis requires a robust and timely medical response that begins with getting physicians to the front lines. Health care workers on H-1B and J-1 visas—including physicians in the Conrad State 30 program, which helps retain U.S.-trained physicians who work in underserved areas—are a key resource in this process. 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. Even telemedicine programs, which can provide needed surge capacity to underserved and rural areas, often cannot employ these physicians to serve patients. Moreover, there are concerns among providers that H-1B and J-1 visa holders may not even be permitted to provide services outside of their medical specialty, even if they are otherwise qualified to do so.

We therefore urge you to grant health care providers relief as soon as possible so that our nation’s critical resources can be effectively deployed. USCIS should immediately waive the requirements of the 2015 Simeio guidance for health care providers seeking changes in previously approved employment or new concurrent employment during the current public health emergency. 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.

Thank for your attention to this important matter. We look forward to your prompt response.

Sincerely, 

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