Bill Introduced Allowing Doctors on J-1 Visas to Stay Longer in Rural Communities

U.S. Senators Amy Klobuchar, D-Minnesota; Susan Collins, R-Maine; Jacky Rosen, D-Nevada; and Joni Ernst, R-Iowa have reintroduced bipartisan legislation to increase the number of doctors able to work in rural and medically underserved communities, Klobuchar’s office said in a news release. The Conrad State 30 and Physician Access Reauthorization Act would allow international doctors to remain in the U.S. upon completing their residency under the condition that they practice in areas experiencing doctor shortages.  Senator Angus King (I-ME) is an original co-sponsor along with Senators John Thune (R-SD), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), Chris Coons (D-DE), and Roy Blunt (R-MO).

“We must provide opportunities for American-trained and educated physicians to remain in the country and practice in areas where there is an unmet need for quality care,” said Senator Collins. “By expanding access to health care in our rural and underserved communities, this bipartisan bill would promote healthier lives and ensure that families across the country receive the health care they deserve.”

“Over the last 15 years, the Conrad 30 program has brought more than 15,000 physicians to underserved areas, filling a critical need for quality care in our rural communities – a need that was highlighted during the coronavirus pandemic,” Klobuchar said in a statement. “Our bipartisan legislation would allow doctors to remain in the areas they serve, improving health care for families across the nation while retaining talent trained and educated here in the United States,” she added.

At the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, Klobuchar led a bipartisan group of 19 senators and 29 members of the House in a letter to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services calling on the administration to waive restrictions that prevent doctors on certain employment-based visas from providing medical services in rural areas. She also led a letter to USCIS with 24 senators and 13 members of the House, urging the administration to resume premium processing for doctors seeking employment-based visas.

“The American Medical Association strongly supports this bill that would ensure all patients, regardless of where they live, have adequate opportunities to be treated by skilled physicians in their local communities,” said Dr. Susan R. Bailey, President of the American Medical Association. “The COVID-19 pandemic has shown the importance of rural and underserved areas having sufficient access to physicians and quality health care. Strengthening the Conrad 30 program is a vital part of making access happen.”

“Now more than ever, the U.S. must offer incentives and opportunities to trained physicians to work in areas of the country where we desperately need more excellent healthcare providers. The Conrad State 30 and Physician Access Reauthorization Act is a bipartisan effort to begin tackling our national physician shortfall, with a targeted focus on our rural and underserved area,” said Kristie De Peña, Vice President of Policy at The Niskanen Center.

“The latest extension of the Conrad State 30 Program will expire later this year, which is why we urge action to extend this critical program. Without timely reauthorization, patient access to care in the many communities that have benefited from these physicians may be threatened,” said Stacey Hughes, Executive Vice President of the American Hospital Association. “We also support the program improvements contained in the Conrad State 30 and Physician Access Reauthorization Act as part of this extension and stand ready to work with you and your colleagues to move this legislation forward.”

“NRHA applauds Senators Klobuchar, Collins, Rosen, and Ernst for reintroducing the Conrad State 30 and Physician Access Reauthorization Act. Rural Americans face greater health care workforce shortages than their urban counterparts, so we are proud to support this bill, which will help support the recruitment of physicians and the delivery of vital health care services in rural America,” said Carrie Cochran-McClain, Chief Policy Officer at the National Rural Health Association.

“Many highly trained hospitalists are immigrants and as COVID-19 has proven, they are crucial to our healthcare system, particularly in rural and underserved communities.  The Society of Hospital Medicine (SHM) strongly supports the Conrad State 30 and Physician Access Reauthorization Act to help ensure these communities have the healthcare workforce necessary to care for the patients who need them,” said Eric Howell, MD, MHM, CEO of the Society of Hospital Medicine.

Currently, doctors from other countries working in America on J-1 visas are required to return to their home country for two years after their residency has ended before they can apply for another visa or green card. The Conrad 30 program allows doctors to stay in the United States without having to return home if they agree to practice in an underserved area for three years. The “30” refers to the number of doctors per state that can participate in the program.

This legislation extends the Conrad 30 program for three years, improves the process for obtaining a visa, and allows for the program to be expanded beyond 30 slots if certain thresholds are met, while protecting small states’ slots. The bill also allows the spouses of doctors to work and provides worker protections to prevent the doctors from being mistreated. A version of the bill was included as an amendment in the comprehensive immigration bill that passed the Senate in 2013. The bill has received the endorsement of the Federation of American Hospitals, American Medical Association, the Niskanen Center, the American Hospital Association, the National Rural Health Association, the Association of American Medical Colleges, and the Society of Hospital Medicine.

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