Underlining the important role played by foreign medical practitioners working in the United States, the American Medical Association (AMA) has written to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to clear the backlog for conversion of physicians’ H-1B visas to permanent resident status in the country.
Applications of a number of international medical graduates for permanent residency in the United States are stuck in the huge backlog, according to the AMA. These doctors, who primarily hail from India and China, are actively practicing medicine in the country but are not able to get their green card due to this backlog, which is caused by norms related to per-country limitations.
In the letter addressed to USCIS Director L. Francis Cissna, AMA CEO and Executive Vice President James L. Madara said: “These physicians play a critical role in providing health care to many Americans because they tend to choose primary-care specialties and work in areas of the country with higher rates of poverty; they are providing important medical services to communities in need.”
Madara also said in the letter, dated Aug. 9, that many of these doctors are waiting for their green cards for decades due to the per-country cap. Urging for expedition of the permanent status process for immigrant doctors, Madara cited a recent report that said that around 20.8 million Americans live in areas where at least half of the physicians are trained outside the United States.
He also pointed at the prediction by workforce experts regarding a forthcoming shortage of physicians in United States, according to which over the next 10 years, the country will face a considerable paucity of medical practitioners for both primary care and specialty related fields of medicine, due to the growth and aging of the population and the upcoming retirement of many physicians.
“The impact of this physician shortage will disproportionately affect vulnerable and underserved populations around the country. Currently, more than 85 million people live in parts of the U.S. that have been designated as primary medical care health professional shortage areas. An estimated 15,000 physicians are needed nationwide to remove this designation,” Madara said in the letter.
The six-year limit on H-1B visas and the strict scrutiny on the extension requests for certain non-immigrant visa categories bring additional blockade for these physicians, the letter said. Therefore, immediate clearance of the huge H-1B visa backlog for these physicians and awarding them the permanent resident status is urgently required now.
In June, a demand to relax the visa cap on foreign doctors coming from outside the European Union was raised in the United Kingdom too. It was said then that the visa cap on doctors acts against the interests of patients.