The COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic has created a worldwide health crisis, highlighting the importance of well-trained healthcare staff around the world.  As the United States has become the country with the highest number of COVID-19 infections, the number of patients needing medical attention has risen substantially and is expected to rise even further. In light of this, the AMERICAN MEDICAL ASSOCIATION (AMA) has recently sent an urgent request to the United States Department of State and U.S. Immigration (USCIS) to take critical steps to expand the foreign trained physician workforce to meet the increasing demands on the American health system during the COVID-19 pandemic. The AMA stated in an urgent bulletin, in pertinent part, the following:

I am writing to strongly urge the U.S. Department of State (DoS) to work with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to ensure that non-U.S. citizen international medical graduates (IMG) are not negatively impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and can either continue, or begin, to serve a vital role in caring for patients during the COVID-19 pandemic. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. was already facing a serious shortage of physicians largely due to the growth and aging of the population and the impending retirement of many physicians. Non-U.S. citizen IMGs [international medical graduates] play a critical role in providing health care to many Americans…During this pandemic it is even more critical that our non-U.S. citizen IMGs have the support they need from the Administration to provide health care to those patients battling COVID-19.

There have long existed different options for temporary visas for foreign trained doctors and medical personnel, including the H-1B and J1 visas.  However, these options have drawbacks for physicians since they are temporary visas and depend on a U.S. employer or agency as the sponsor. Likewise, the US has long held a path to residency through National Interest Waiver specifically designed for physicians (Physician NIW). However, this opportunity also suffers from significant drawbacks.  Specifically, in addition to other requirements, the Physician NIW has historically taken some time to obtain and further requires that most applicants obtain an attestation from a federal agency or the department of health stating that the work is in the public interest in addition to a commitment to full-time clinical practice in an underserved area for a period of five years.

In the alternative and based on the AMA’s urgent demand, we encourage foreign medical professionals interested in immigrating to the U.S. to consider an application for U.S. permanent residency under the EB-2 National Interest Waiver (Standard EB-2 NIW) category. The Standard EB-2 NIW is an excellent path to U.S permanent residency for those professionals with a doctorate or master’s degree or a bachelor’s degree + 5 years of progressive experience in the field of expertise and able to show that they are well positioned to carry out their endeavor in the U.S. that has substantial merit and is of national importance.  Although generally, standard EB-2 NIW cases take 9-12 months to process, in light of the current situation in the US a request to expedite the Visa Petition could be reviewed by USCIS in order to have the Petition approved within a few months or even potentially within weeks. Notably, although the Department of State has suspended visa processing throughout the world for virtually all applicants, it has made an exception for medical professionals in this regard.  On March 26th, 2020 the State Department stated that it “encourage[d] medical professionals seeking work in the U.S. . . . particularly those working on #COVID19 issues, to contact the nearest U.S. Embassy/Consulate for a visa appointment.” While the State Department’s guidance is mainly for non-immigrant visas this same guidance could be used in order to assist foreign medical professionals to obtain immigrant visas in an expedited fashion as well.

Furthermore, though medical licensure in the US is not required to obtain the Standard EB-2 NIW, it is also notable that the State of New York has specifically recently significantly rolled back requirement for local licenses to practice medicine in the state. In short, for foreign medical professionals who are interest in residing in the US the signals coming from both State and Federal government in the US is to strongly consider that opportunity.

Based on the national importance of combating COVID-19, the rapidly growing shortage of U.S. medical staff and the urgent need as expressed by the American Medical Association, we recommend that foreign trained medical personnel that meet the above criteria and are interested in developing a career in the U.S. contact our experienced United States immigration attorneys at Colombo & Hurd. We have extensive experience in representing physicians and healthcare workers obtain immigrant visas in the US through the EB-1 Visa as well as the EB-2 NIW Visa.  For a free evaluation of your credentials for the EB-2 NIW please complete the form through the link or contact us online for a consultation.