Date: March 16, 2022
Having quality physicians is essential to providing healthcare in rural communities, but there are certain challenges in physician recruitment and retention in rural settings. In many cases, the ability of healthcare facilities to remain open depends on having an adequate staff of physicians. Unfortunately, rural areas often have difficulty recruiting and retaining physicians. Due to these challenges, many rural communities fill their physician vacancies by recruiting International Medical Graduates (IMGs)* who have done their medical training under the J-1 visa exchange visitor program.
The J-1 visa is a non-immigrant exchange visitor visa and is often used by IMGs pursuing a medical residency or fellowship training in the United States. The J-1 visa allows holders to remain in the U.S., normally for up to seven years, until they complete their Graduate Medical Education (GME). Upon completion, they are required under U.S. immigration law to return to their home country for at least two years before gaining eligibility for an H-1B visa to re-enter and work in the United States or for permanent residence.
Therefore, J-1 physicians have, in essence, two choices upon completing their GME: 1) they can return to their home country for at least two years, or 2) they can obtain a waiver of this obligation. A J-1 visa waiver eliminates the two-year home residency requirement and allows physicians to change into H-1B visa status that will allow them to stay in the U.S. to practice in a federally designated primary care or mental health Health Professional Shortage Area (HPSA), if recommended by an interested federal government agency. State government agencies also recommend J-1 physician waivers through the Conrad 30 Waiver Program.
*International Medical Graduates are sometimes referred to as Foreign Medical Graduates (FMGs) by organizations and federal agencies