Current US Visa Rules Restrict, Limit COVID-19 Physician Pool

William W. Pinsky, MD, CEO of ECFMG, told Medscape Medical News the visa suspensions would wreak havoc with the system if there were no pandemic and that this year, suspensions are particularly threatening.

“In an average year, about 25% of residents and fellows in training are IMGs,” he said. “They provide supervised care to patients, particularly important in safety net areas.

“This year, the importance is even higher. If, all of a sudden, 25% of new house staff cannot be there, from a caregiver perspective, it increases the burden,” he added.

Residents May Need to Be Quarantined

Pinsky said an additional concern is that currently, the J-1 visas cannot be granted until 30 days before programs start.

“Assuming that people from other countries are going to be able to find transportation to get here, I would assume they would have to be quarantined for 2 weeks,” he said. “That would also likely require the institutions where they’re working to facilitate the quarantine. This is where it all makes your head explode.”

Pinsky said the communication between his agency and the State Department has been “excellent,” and on Tuesday, the department asked ECFMG for additional information “as soon as possible.”

“I take that as a very positive element of cooperation in understanding how important this is,” he said.

“All this is doable,” Pinsky said. “It’s just a matter of figuring things out.”

Physician Sisters Both Need Visas

An infectious disease (ID) fellow in Boston, Massachusetts, who asked that her name be withheld because of sensitivities involving visa status, told Medscape Medical News that her J-1 visa expires this summer and that she is worried about what that means for finishing the last year of her fellowship.

Her sister, who is currently in the United States on a tourist visa, last week matched into an internal medicine program in Washington, DC. She is waiting to see whether she can get a J-1 visa to start the program.

The ID fellow said she is frustrated that some have called for medical retirees to work and are asking students to help with some services when “you’re looking at a pool of 4000 doctors who are willing to serve.”

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