Many international medical graduates (IMGs) from around the world come to the U.S. each year to complete a U.S. residency program and become licensed to practice in this country, filling a significant need due to physician shortages in many communities. Particularly during the coronavirus pandemic, these IMGs are filling critical positions providing services to rural and underserved patient communities and doing research in finding a vaccine and treatment for COVID-19.
Many of these foreign-trained physicians come to the U.S. in a J-1 visa program sponsored by the ECFMG (Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates) and run through the Department of State. The J-1 visa program, much like the F-1 student visa, allows individuals to enter without a predetermined expiration date but rather under a “duration of status,” meaning that the program sponsor may extend their program as needed for fellowships, chief residencies and board exams. In addition they may enter initially for a period of three years to complete the medical residency program in the U.S.
The Department of Homeland Security and ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) has proposed a rule to change the admission period of F, J, and I nonimmigrants from “duration of status” to an admission for a fixed time period. The proposed rule also establishes a procedure under which F, J, and I nonimmigrants can apply for an extension of stay. The proposed changes would limit the stay to one-year periods and make the extension process cumbersome and lengthy, causing interrupted and prolonged medical training during a time when we most need our medical professionals to be treating coronavirus patients.
Under the new rule, applicants would not be able to guarantee specific dates or the length for their program or education.
The proposed rule is open for public comments until October 26, 2020. After the DHS considers the comments, it would draft a final rule and submit that to the Office of Management and Budget for review. Only after that could a final rule be published. Litigation could temporarily or permanently stop the final rule from taking effect.
For several recent articles that describe the impact on physicians and patients in the U.S., see “New Visa Limits Would be a Self-Inflicted Wound for the U.S.” and “Some Doctors Fighting Pandemic Now Have Another Thing to Worry About.”