Government reinstates fast-track visas for some doctors

Doctor time
The government has reinstated a speeded up visa process to allow certain doctors to stay in the U.S.

The government has reinstated a fast-track visa process to allow some doctors to stay in the U.S. and help ease the country's expanding physician shortage.

As of June 26, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has made premium processing service available for all H-1B visa petitions under the Conrad 30 Visa Waiver Program. It allows doctors to stay in the country on a temporary visa after they complete their medical training, so long as they go to work in rural and urban areas that have a shortage of physicians. 

"This program improves healthcare access for Americans living in underserved areas, and we are pleased to resume premium processing for these petitions,” USCIS Acting Director James McCament, said in an announcement.

The agency had unexpectedly announced back in March that it would temporarily suspend the premium processing service for all H-1B petitions received on or after April 3.

Many hospitals and healthcare systems take advantage of premium processing to get approval for their doctors to work in the U.S. The program allows a petitioner to get a decision within 15 calendar days in exchange for payment of an additional filing fee. The typical process can take as long as six months.

The decision to suspend premium processing left hospitals up against the clock to get approvals for more than 3,800 foreign international residents who in March were offered jobs as medical residents.

The announcement suspending premium processing was made 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 the Supreme Court this week partially restored.

In what was seen as at victory for Trump, the Supreme Court ruled Monday that his travel ban—which has raised concerns from the medical community—can take effect for people from those countries if they have no ties to the United States. The state department has issued new rules whereby visas that have already been approved will not be revoked and the government will begin implementing that ban today at 8 p.m. eastern time.

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

Trump signed an executive order in April to overhaul the entire H-1B visa program that allows immigrants to work temporarily for a specific employer and last year allowed U.S. hospitals and healthcare organizations to fill approximately 10,500 physician positions across the country. 

Some 2,156 healthcare employers rely on physicians who hold H-1B visas, particularly in medically underserved areas, according to one study. The latest action provides relief for those who apply under the Conrad 30 program.

RELATED: Trump's new executive order to overhaul visa program that allows thousands of doctors to work in the U.S.

The government originally indicated that the suspension of the premium processing program could remain in effect for up to six months. But on June 23, the USCIS announced it would make premium processing available to a small class of H-1B petitions, including the Conrad 30 visa waiver and for other requests by federal government agencies.

The Conrad 30 program allows doctors who were in the U.S. on a J-1 visa for medical training to receive a waiver of the two-year home residency requirement if they work for three years in H-1B status in a medically underserved area of the country, as defined by the Department of Health and Human Services, according to The National Law Review. Without a waiver, those doctors must return to their home country for two years before they can apply to become a permanent resident of the U.S.

The change will allow physicians and hospitals to comply with stringent timing requirements with the Conrad 30 program, including that doctors enter into employment at the healthcare facility within 90 days of receipt of a visa, the publication indicated. The USCIS said it plans to resume premium processing of other H-1B petitions “as workloads permit”.