63 healthcare orgs call on Congress to extend, expand visa waiver for international medical graduates

Sixty-three provider and healthcare advocacy organizations are petitioning Congress to pass legislation expanding international medical graduates’ ability to immediately practice in the U.S.

The two letters, sent to the House and Senate’s Judiciary Committee leaders late last week, address the Conrad 30 Waiver Program.

The program allows foreign students who come to the U.S. for medical training to forego visa requirements that would force them to return to their home country for at least two years.

Without the waiver, these graduates would be prohibited “from practicing domestically upon completion of their residency and placing their ability to ever practice in the United States in doubt,” groups including the American Medical Association, the American Hospital Association and the Association of American Medical Colleges wrote in their letters.

Those who receive the waiver are required to work full-time for three years in a medically underserved community—an arrangement that, to date, has allowed 15,000 qualified international medical graduates to deliver care to in-need Americans, according to the letters.

“These [international medical graduates] play a vital role in providing greater access to health care for millions of patients, particularly in historically underserved communities who have also been hit hard by the current global health care crisis,” the groups wrote.

The Conrad State 30 and Physician Access Reauthorization Act was introduced last year and referred to committee in both chambers. So far, it has garnered bipartisan support from 26 co-signers in the Senate and 110 in the House.

If passed, the bill would reauthorize the Conrad 30 Waiver Program for three years, increase the number of waivers available annually to each state and implement other updates such as permitting employment at academic medical centers not located in underserved areas if the medical graduate’s work is "in the public interest.”

The healthcare industry has already been straining for years under the weight of a widespread workforce shortage, but the issue is only expected to worsen due to heightened post-pandemic demand, the organizations told committee leaders.

“This program was previously expanded once before, but the number of waivers has remained stagnant for the last two decades, despite our health care workforce shortage becoming more severe,” they wrote. “As the significant impacts of ‘Long COVID,’ i.e., post-acute sequelae of SARS-CoV-2 infection, are emerging for millions of Americans, having a sufficient workforce to address the additional demand for care is critical.”

The groups called for legislators to pass the act into law prior to the conclusion of the current session of Congress, scheduled for Jan. 3, 2023.