Hospitals race to fast-track visas for foreign medical residents

Stack of documents
Hospitals are up against the clock to apply for “premium processing” for foreign international residents who last month were offered jobs as medical residents.

Hospitals are up against the clock to apply for “premium processing” for foreign international residents who last month were offered jobs as medical residents.

Beginning today, federal immigration officials have temporarily suspended premium processing that allowed employers to fast-track H-1B visa applications. The accelerated process provides an answer to a visa application within 15 calendar days instead of the typical process that can take as long as six months. The suspension may continue for six months, officials said. 

The announcement about the suspension was made last month in the wake of President Donald Trump’s executive order for a temporary travel ban on people from six Muslim-majority countries, an order that has since been put on hold by a federal judge.

But the pause on the premium processing option has put hospitals in a bind as it is one of the busiest times for hiring. The National Resident Matching Program reported (PDF) that 3,814 non-U.S. citizen students or graduates of international medical schools were accepted into residency programs on March 17 on “Match Day.”

Claire Ayer, director of the Partners HealthCare Office for International and Professional Students, told STAT that her staff worked 'round the clock to apply for premium processing for as many international students as possible before today’s deadline. Her office handles visa applications for international staff and students of Boston-area hospitals, including Massachusetts General Hospital.

Hospitals in Massachusetts have been especially worried about Trump’s travel ban because of its large number of teaching hospitals that rely on foreign doctors. The action will also have a staffing impact on rural clinics, STAT reported.

“I’ve been doing immigration for a long time, and I’ve never seen a more inhospitable environment,” Ayer told the publication.

However, the U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services told STAT that it can rush through an application if an emergency, such as if a delay will create a financial crisis.

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