Gov't Temporarily Lifts Visa Restrictions For Foreign Doctors

By Sarah Martinson
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Law360 (May 12, 2020, 7:48 PM EDT) -- The Trump administration announced that it will not penalize foreign doctors who received waivers to work in the U.S. full-time for three years if they temporarily can't work 40 hours a week as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services said in a memo Monday that foreign doctors who become ill from COVID-19, are quarantined or are under travel restrictions will not lose their H-1B employment visas and have to return to their country of residency as a consequence.

The agency said the policy change applies to medical professionals who received waivers to work in understaffed health care areas in the U.S. instead of having to return to their country of residency for two years.

"This is a limited flexibility based on the authorities cited in this memorandum and only relates to the foreign medical graduate's eligibility for future immigration benefits that would be affected by the reimposition of the two-year home residence requirement as the result of a contract violation," USCIS said.

USCIS also said foreign doctors can provide telehealth services for their employer to satisfy the full-time work requirement of their foreign residency waiver.

"In no instance should the foreign medical graduate, other than a graduate employed by the [U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs], provide telehealth services to patients outside of the state of their contracting facility," the agency said, noting that employers who allow foreign doctors to provide telehealth services from home must offer the same option to U.S. workers.

Under normal circumstances, the Immigration and Nationality Act requires medical professionals to return to their country of residency for two years after studying in the U.S. before they can apply for an H-1B visa, according to the memo.

That requirement can be waived when the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services declares that there is a shortage of health care workers and foreign doctors are employed to stop the shortage, the memo said.

U.S. lawmakers in recent weeks have been advocating for the Trump administration to lift restrictions on visas for medical professionals to fill a growing shortage of health care workers needed to fight the coronavirus pandemic.

In April, more than 60 House democrats urged the administration to extend work authorization for foreign health care workers currently employed in the U.S. and to allow foreign doctors to work in states other than the ones they are licensed to practice in.

Later that week, the U.S. Department of State announced that foreign medical residents who have valid visa petitions or have been accepted into an exchange visitor program can request emergency visas to combat the novel coronavirus.

--Editing by Stephen Berg.

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