Current approval process by the State Department mired in delays.
NEW YORK: U.S. Reps. Grace Meng (D-NY) and Tom Emmer (R-MN), members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, introduced legislation on Thursday that would direct the State Department to speed-up the visa approval process for international physicians who are slated to work at hospitals in the United States.
Currently, foreign physicians scheduled to serve their residencies at American hospitals are encountering extremely long delays in obtaining J-1 visas from U.S. Embassies in their countries, particularly in India and Pakistan.
The holdups have resulted in major dilemmas for those doctors and the U.S. hospitals – many in rural and underserved communities – at which the physicians are set to work. In many instances, the delays have forced hospitals to withdraw offers from foreign physicians who had already accepted.
“The excessive delays in approving visas for international physicians is causing unnecessary havoc for those doctors and the American hospitals that are depending on them,” said Meng, in a statement. “This ineffective approval process must be improved so that these doctors can enter the U.S. as planned, and provide the critical medical care needed in many communities throughout the country. Not resolving this dilemma would be extremely unfair to all and a disservice to the millions of Americans who seek treatment from these hospitals, especially in areas where there is a shortage of doctors. Our bill would finally fix this problem and that’s why Congress needs to pass it.”
Emmer stated: “As American hospitals face doctor shortages, this important legislation will increase healthcare access across the country by eliminating the persistent backlog of J-1 visas.”
He added: “By improving oversight and training at U.S. embassies we can ensure our Foreign Service Officers have all the tools they need to properly process each application in a timely manner. I’m honored to introduce the GRAD Act with Congresswoman Meng. This bipartisan bill doesn’t just address issues important to the State Department and the applicant; it will also benefit the patients of underserved hospitals by giving them access to medical care when they need it most.”
Entitled the Grant Residency for Additional Doctors (GRAD) Act of 2015, Meng and Emmer’s bill would require the Secretary of State to designate a State Department officer or employee to facilitate the expedited review of J-1 visa applicants slated to travel to the U.S for graduate medical education or training.
The measure would also require that the expedited review be the sole responsibility of this officer or employee from March to June, since the majority of residency programs begin each July. In addition, the legislation would mandate that Foreign Service officers at relevant embassies receive training related to medical graduates and medical graduate programs.
The J-1 is a temporary nonimmigrant visa that international physicians use to work in U.S. medical residency programs.