The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has made a significant change regarding eligibility for clinical J-1 waivers for foreign educated physicians who have completed graduate medical programs or training in the United States. This development changes the landscape for J-1 visa waiver availability nation-wide.
The majority of foreign physicians that come to the United States to complete their graduate medical education program or training use the J-1 visa program. Those who use this J-1 visa program are subject to a two-year home residency requirement, meaning that normally, they must physically return to their country of nationality or last permanent residence for two years, or obtain a J-1 waiver before they can change to H-1B visa status or apply for permanent residency. Based on public interest, federal agencies can act as a sponsor by recommending a J-1 visa waiver to the U.S. Department of State (DOS) in order to waive the two-year home residency requirement.
Historically, HHS has issued recommendations for J-1 waivers to the DOS for foreign physicians to practice primary care medicine (family medicine, general internal medicine, general pediatrics, obstetrics & gynecology) or general psychiatry. These physicians were eligible based on practice at a federally qualified health center, Native American tribal health facility or rural health clinic.
Now, under the new HHS requirements, foreign physicians who plan to practice at any health facility that has or is in a location that has a Health Professional Shortage Area (HPSA) score of 7 or higher are eligible for J-1 visa waiver sponsorship. Practice is still limited to primary care medicine. Note that unlike the State Conrad 30 J-1 Waiver Program, there are no annual limits to the number of waivers available for this program.
This may create new opportunities to fill any primary care openings with foreign physicians at any time, especially considering the low HPSA score requirement for health care facilities. Importantly, this change reduces strain on some oversubscribed State Conrad 30 J-1 Waiver Programs that provide J-1 waivers for specialists in medically underserved areas and HPSAs.