With visas in doubt, U.S. teaching hospitals may be without thousands of new residents

Last Friday, more than 7,000 international medical graduates matched with residency programs at U.S. hospitals.

But now with visas in doubt for the 4,222 who are not American citizens, those U.S. teaching hospitals may be without thousands of new residents at a time when they may be critically needed to combat the coronavirus pandemic, according to the Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates (ECFMG).

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The new residents are scheduled to start work at teaching hospitals across the U.S. on July 1, joining the physician workforce during the national healthcare crisis created by COVID-19.

Of the more than 7,000 international medical graduates (IMGs) who matched with residency programs, just over 3,000 are U.S. citizens, but 4,222 are citizens of other countries and require J-1 visas to work in the U.S.

However, travel restrictions and the fact that the State Department has temporarily stopped issuing the visas most of those international medical graduates would need to enter and work in the U.S. has the ECFMG worried.

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“Comprising approximately one-quarter of our active physicians, IMGs are critical to meeting our nation’s healthcare needs, including the current healthcare crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic,” said William W. Pinsky, M.D., ECFMG’s president and CEO.

“We need every one of these qualified physicians to join their U.S. training programs on time, and we are working aggressively to address any obstacles, such as immigration or travel restrictions, that would prevent these newly matched physicians from bringing their skills and talents to bear on the current crisis,” Pinsky said.

Like other medical students, the future doctors learned of their residencies during last Friday’s Match Day. The ECFMG hopes the State Department will create an exemption for the foreign medical graduates to obtain visas.

RELATED: Physician groups raise alarm over potential dearth of medical residents in July due to visa delays

It’s not the first time that hospitals have worried about whether non-U.S. citizens would be able to get the visas they need to work in the U.S.

In 2017, the Match Day process was marked by uncertainty as a result of the Trump administration’s immigration policies. And in 2018, physician groups appealed to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to prevent delays in processing H-1B visas for international medical graduates, a matter which was resolved so the doctors could begin work by July 1.