Patients living in rural areas and other medically underserved communities will benefit from new regulations issued by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
HHS announced last month that it will review J-1 visa waiver applications for foreign-born physicians working in clinics and community health centers in medically underserved areas.
By acting as an interested government agency for the physicians, HHS will fill a void left by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which withdrew participation from the Department of State’s waiver program in late September 2001 due to security concerns.
The Immigration and Naturalization Service requires foreign-born physicians to return to their countries of origin for at least two years following training in the United States, after which they may apply for another form of immigrant visa to return.
In inner cities or rural areas, where the number of patients far exceeds the number of doctors available to treat them, certain government agencies can request a waiver that would allow these physicians to stay in the United States if they agree agree to practice in the underserved area for at least three years.
Other interested government agencies have included the Conrad State 30 program (Psychiatric News, December 20, 2002) and the Appalachian Regional Commission, which has helped to fill physician shortages in the Appalachian region.
Previously, HHS served as an interested government agency to request waivers only for foreign physicians working in biomedical research projects of interest to the department.
"People who live in these underserved communities deserve the same access to primary care as other Americans, and we will do all that we can to help these communities recruit qualified foreign physicians when necessary," Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy Thompson said in an HHS press release last month.
HHS published the new regulations on processing visa waiver requests in the December 19, 2002, issue of the Federal Register as an interim final rule with a 45-day public comment period. The regulations can be accessed on the Web at www.access.gpo.gov/su_docs/fedreg/a021219c.html. ▪
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