New Federal Legislation Introduced to Speed Up J-1 Visas for Foreign Doctors to Work in Rural America

July 26, 2021


In an effort to proactively address the coming physician shortage, Congressman Tom Emmer (MN-06) and Congresswoman Grace Meng (NY-06) today introduced the Grant Residency for Additional Doctors (GRAD) Act of 2021. The aim is to provide much needed assistance to America’s rural and other underserved areas by clearing obstacles from the paths of incoming foreign physicians.   

 Long before the COVID-19 pandemic became round-the-clock, worldwide news, the medical community already was laser focused on developing ways to offset the looming shortage of qualified physicians. Research by the Association of American Medical Colleges revealed that by 2033, the United States will face a shortage of physicians between 54,100 and 139,000. Already a frightening issue, these shortfalls today are expected to prove even more steep for both primary care physicians and specialists as current and new practitioners are likely to experience burnout caused by the pandemic.  

America’s rural and other underserved areas are expected to be hardest hit, as they tend to attract the least new talent. Young doctors often opt for larger metropolitan areas that offer higher pay and more opportunity. Adding to the crunch is the fact that many rural and underserved communities rely on foreign doctors to fill open hospital positions.   

Therein lies the latest rub. Those foreign medical professionals rely on J-1 visas for access to work in the United States health care system. A J-1 visa is a temporary, nonimmigrant visa that international medical students and physicians use to work in U.S.-based medical residency programs. Currently, foreign physicians scheduled to serve their residencies in American hospitals are encountering extremely long processing delays in obtaining J-1 visas from U.S. embassies in their countries. That’s what the proposed new legislation would help to alleviate.   

If passed, the GRAD Act of 2021 would direct the Department of State to establish a dedicated staff position within the department to process J-1 visa applications during times of increased demand. It would also provide training to relevant foreign service and consular officers charged with reviewing these visa applications to recognize the domestic need for such positions and work to eliminate any bureaucratic hurdles to processing.   

“The United States continues to face a deficit of physicians, with rural hospitals shouldering some of the heaviest burdens associated with this shortfall. As we seek to increase the number of physicians domestically, medical professionals from around the world have historically been able to help address doctor shortages in rural areas, utilizing the J-1 visa process to carry out their medical residencies in the American health system,” Emmer said. “Even before the outbreak of the Coronavirus, our rural communities had difficulty attracting and retaining qualified physicians. The GRAD Act is a nonpartisan way to keep our hospitals staffed while addressing bureaucratic delays in the J-1 program.”   

If you’re planning a medical career, there are multiple reasons to opt for serving patients in rural and other underserved areas, including quality of life and multiple financial incentives being offered by schools and states to attract new talent to areas in need. READ MORE HERE. And contact WOLFPACC to talk with an enrollment specialist about how you can gain the competitive edge.