Congress members urge NBRC to bring doctors with visa waiver program

WASHINGTON — As physicians become harder and harder to find in rural regions nationwide, a bipartisan group of congressional representatives is calling for the Northern Border Regional Commission to take action and make it easier to recruit doctors in the region.

In a letter to the NBRC this week, five House members representing districts along the U.S.-Canada border in New York, New Hampshire, Vermont and Maine asked that the group develop a plan to bring qualified doctors and health care professionals to the northern regions of their states.

The NBRC is a partnership between states and the federal government, focused on the most economically distressed counties in New York, New Hampshire, Vermont and Maine, which happen to be mostly focused along the border region, although some of the counties covered by the commission are hundreds of miles away from the border, like Greene County in New York’s Hudson Valley. The commission invests in economic and infrastructure projects, and serves as a liaison between the region and federal government agencies.

The bipartisan group of legislators, including Rep. Elise M. Stefanik, R-Schuylerville, as well as Congressional Progressive Caucus vice chair Chellie M. Pingree, D-Maine, requested that the NBRC use its existing authority to create a J-1 visa waiver program, which would allow U.S.-trained physicians who are not residents or citizens to work in the country for up to three years, provided they work in areas of increased need, like rural areas in the commission’s purview.

Current J-1 visas, which are the most common visa used to bring medical professionals into the U.S., require that the visa-holder complete a training program, like a residency, in the U.S., and then requires the holder to return to their home country for at least two years before they can request an H-1B professional work visa or permanent resident status.

“These physicians will provide critical medical services in rural areas of our states currently suffering from physician staffing shortages,” the letter reads.

Other regional authorities and commissions in the Appalachian Mountains and the Mississippi River delta have implemented similar waiver programs. The Delta Doctors program in the Mississippi River delta placed over 160 doctors who would otherwise not have been able to work in the U.S. around its region of responsibility in 2019 alone.

Under this program, which the representatives say could be used as a model for the NBRC’s program, medical professionals who secure the waiver can work for the three-year period, then have the requirement that they return to their home country for two years waived, allowing them to immediately seek permanent resident status.


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