Trump immigration policies disrupt health care: Column

The United States has faced a persistent physician shortage for decades, particularly in rural and poor urban areas. Now, with two new Trump administration policies, the problem is only going to get worse.

Foreign national doctors have helped to fill this massive geographic gap in health care, receiving training in the United States and then working in underserved areas in return for continued visa status and the prospect of settling permanently in the U.S. More than a quarter of all physicians in the U.S. are foreign nationals, a figure that has remained relatively unchanged for decades, and American patients have benefited greatly from their presence.

President Trump’s new travel ban, combined with another major change announced by immigration authorities, threatens to turn the current regime for foreign national doctors on its head and intensify the country’s shortage of doctors. That’s bad news for all of us, especially for residents of rural and small-town America. Those areas are already disadvantaged in recruiting doctors — and they are also where Trump racked up his winning margins on Election Day.

Trump’s new executive order, with some exceptions, bars nationals of Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen from obtaining new visas. This executive order came a few days after the government announced a six-month suspension of “Premium Processing” for H-1B skilled worker visas. These are the visas many doctors must use, and the program allowed fast processing of them.

How do these fit together?

The travel ban is shrinking U.S. access to quality physicians and will make life harder for many who are here, by preventing their relatives from visiting or living in America. Syria and Iran have long supplied us with top-notch physicians (about 14,000 doctors in the U.S. hail from these two nations). Barring new visas from these countries will cut off an important supply of great doctors.

By James Hollis and Greg Siskind for USA TODAY
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