As feared, foreign-born doctors left in limbo by Trump’s changes to visa program

Any hopes that economic uncertainty would be left behind along with the presidential election are proving to be fruitless, and it's time to settle in for what may be a bumpy ride.
Changes in visa policies are leaving some foreign-born doctors in limbo.

At a time when many areas of the country are facing a physician shortage, some foreign-born doctors who want to work in the U.S. are in limbo because of changes that the Trump administration has made to the visa program.

Some doctors have had a long wait to obtain an H-1B visa to work here after the White House administration suspended a 15-day expedited process in April that allowed applicants to pay an additional $1,225 for “premium processing” to speed up their application, according to The Pew Charitable Trusts.

Now, doctors, such as Sunil Sreekumar Nair, a citizen of the United Kingdom, face an uncertain future, the publication notes.

Nair is looking at a wait of at least eight months before he can get a visa that will allow him to take a job in a hospital near Fort Smith, Arkansas, a rural area with a doctor shortage, according to the report. Nair is finishing his residency in internal medicine at a Brooklyn hospital but isn’t sure he will be able to stay in the U.S. when his original visa expires.

An H-1B visa allows U.S. employers to temporarily employ foreign-born workers in specialty fields such as medicine and information technology. In addition to suspending the expedited application process, President Donald Trump also ordered a review of the entire H-1B program.

Trump’s action aims to make good on his “Buy American, Hire American” campaign promise and is intended to make it harder for tech companies to replace American workers with cheaper foreign labor. But in healthcare, foreign-born doctors are not replacing American doctors but taking jobs that would otherwise go unfilled.

The uncertainty is creating problems for parts of the country that depend on foreign-born doctors to treat patients, including both rural and urban neighborhoods with a need for physicians. “For us, this has been a very positive program that has brought healthcare to areas of Wisconsin that would otherwise go without,” Lisa Boero, legal counsel for the immigration program at the Marshfield Clinic Health System, which operates more than 50 clinics through largely rural central and northern Wisconsin, told Pew.

RELATED: Hospitals race to fast-track visas for foreign medical residents

The change in visa policies has also had an impact on programs that rely on foreign-born medical school graduates to fill medical residences. Hospitals were up against the clock to get approvals for more than 3,800 foreign international residents who were offered jobs as medical residents in March.