If doctors in the US on visas die while fighting the coronavirus, their families could be forced to leave the country or face deportation

The US relies heavily on doctors from other countries. More than a quarter of all physicians in the country are foreign-born, and in some parts of the country, the number is even higher.

The need for ventilators and personal protective equipment has been front and center in the news in the past few weeks. But less attention has been paid to the need for healthcare workers who can care for patients.

Already, healthcare workers have been flying into coronavirus hotspots like New York and New Jersey to help fight the pandemic. New York Governor Cuomo has made repeated pleas to retired healthcare workers, medical students, and healthcare workers from other states to join the fight.

‘We need relief’

“As governor of New York, I am asking health care professionals across the country: If you don’t have a health care crisis in your community, please come help us in New York now,” Cuomo said at a briefing of the crisis in late March. “We need relief.”

But some foreign physicians who are on the ground and want to help are finding their hands are tied.

Many foreign physicians are either on the J-1 or H-1B visas. Though there are differences between the two, physicians on either are facing challenges because they’re often tied to one hospital and can’t work at other locations.

There have been efforts made by the US Department of State to address concerns for these healthcare workers, Frank Trinity, the chief legal officer of the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), told Business Insider.

These actions include allowing flexibility for some physicians to work in hospitals other than the one designated as their main employer. This could help fill in gaps in areas hit hardest by the coronavirus. They have also agreed to resume processing visa applications for recent medical graduates who are set to start their residency programs this summer, which would help fill in gaps in the US healthcare workforce, after a pause due to concerns over the coronavirus.

By Yeji Jesse Lee for BUSINESS INSIDER
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