Two U.S. lawmakers, a Democrat and a Republican, have introduced legislation in Congress urging the State Department to speed-up J-1 visa approvals for international physicians. Entitled the Grant Residency for Additional Doctors (GRAD) Act of 2015, introduced April 23 by Reps. Grace Meng, D-NY and Tom Emmer, R-Minnesota, is expected to end the logjam at various U.S. embassies particularly in India and Pakistan, that was preventing the delivery of good healthcare to underserved areas in this country, the lawmakers say.
The American Association of Physicians of Indian Origin, AAPI, has long called for not just expediting the visa process but also opening up more residency spaces so that the shortage of doctors in the U.S. healthcare system is met. Meng and Emmer, who are members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said 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, they say.
The excessive delay Meng said is “causing unnecessary havoc” for those doctors and the American hospitals that are depending on them. She called the approval process “ineffective” and demanded it be improved so that critical medical care needs in communities throughout this country can be met. “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.” The lawmakers hope expediting the J-1 visa approval would fix the problem and urged their colleagues to pass the bill. If passed, the Act 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.
Dr. Sudhir Parikh, publisher of Desi Talk and recipient of India’s Padma Shri award, said it was the right action for lawmakers to take in light of healthcare needs here. “Expediting the J-1 visa is great also because J-1 is for primary care physicians and those are the ones most needed in rural areas in this country,” said Dr. Parikh who is also an active AAPI member. “Doctors who are green card holders prefer not to go to those locations.” If this J-1 visa legislation passes, he said, AAPI’s long time commitment to improving the U.S. healthcare system as well as the future of international physicians wanting to come here, will be served. “We as AAPI have been calling for increase in number of residencies and issuing J-1 visas because so many eligible doctors are not immediately eligible for the green card or other visas. And the need is immediate.” The J-1 is a temporary nonimmigrant visa that international physicians use to work in U.S. medical residency programs.
Rep. Emmer reiterated Meng’s call for expediting the visa process to increase healthcare access in the country. “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,” he said.