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Visa Program Enables Foreign Doctors To Work In Underserved Communities




As lawmakers are debating federal immigration policies, states like Nevada are continuing to recruit foreign doctors to help with the nation's doctor shortage. Reno Public Radio’s Anh Gray reports.


A J-1 Visa enables foreign students to get medical training in the U.S. The government requires visa holders to return to their home country for two years after they’re done with their training. But there’s a J-1 Visa waiver program that enables facilities working with underserved populations to recruit these providers before they leave. 



Joseph Tucker is with the Nevada Primary Care Office.

“They basically hire in from an international medical graduate, and then they commit to working for three years in the Health Professional Shortage Area,” Tucker explains. “And in return, they have their J-1 Visa waiver, and they’re able to stay here and continue working.”


Nevada ranks near the bottom nationally for the number of primary care doctors per capita. Scott Jones heads up the same office and says that the program has placed doctors in shortage areas, like Elko.


“They were able to recruit out there an ob/gyn doctor through the J-1 Visa waiver program,” Jones says. “And that doctor would be seeing all patients regardless of their ability to pay, so that doctor is currently out there and then serving that population that was in such need because we were getting stories of people having to drive all the way to Utah to be able to then deliver a baby or to get prenatal care.”


For facilities to recruit foreign doctors, administrators must prove that they were unsuccessful in trying to hire a U.S.-based doctor first. States are eligible to recruit up to 30 foreign physicians a year. 


“And so we’re always trying to increase the amount of doctors,” Jones explains.” Last year we had 8 out of those 30 slots. To me that means we could have had about 22 more doctors.”


According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, the J-1 Visa waiver program has steered about 10,000 doctors to underserved communities in the last 10 years. The organization and other medical groups have expressed concerned that immigration policies, like a travel ban, could make doctor shortages throughout the country worse. 

Anh is a contributing editor for the KUNR news team and has been with the station since 2014. She is an alumna of the Boston University School of Public Health and Teachers College, Columbia University.
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