Published On: Mon, Apr 27th, 2015

US lawmakers move bill to bring in more doctors from India

WASHINGTON: India has six doctors per 10,000 and Pakistan has eight. By comparison, the United States has 24/10,000. That hasn’t stopped two American lawmakers from introducing legislation aimed at speeding up visa approval for Indian and Pakistani doctors slated to work in the US, citing shortage of physicians in the United States.

Called the GRAD Act (for Grant Residency for Additional Doctors), the legislation introduced on Friday by US Representative Grace Meng (Democrat from New York) and Tom Emmer (Republican from Minnesota) would direct the State Department to speed-up the visa approval process for international physicians who are slated to work at hospitals in the US.

The lawmakers say foreign physicians scheduled to serve their residencies at American hospitals are encountering extremely long delays in obtaining J-1 visas from US embassies in their countries, while specifically identifying India and Pakistan as catchment countries.

The holdups, they said, have resulted in “major dilemmas” for those doctors and the US hospitals – many in rural and underserved communities – at which the physicians are set to work. In many instances, they said, the delays have forced hospitals to withdraw offers from foreign physicians who had already accepted.

The Meng and Emmer’s bill would require the US Secretary of State to designate a State Department officer or employee to facilitate the expedited review of J-1 visa applicants slated to travel to the US for graduate medical education or training. J-1 visa is the temporary nonimmigrant visa that international physicians use to work in US medical residency programs; most J-1 visas are eventually converted to Green Cards and eventually citizenship, which is how there is now a 60,000-plus Indian physicians in the United States.

The GRAD bill would specifically require that the expedited review be the sole responsibility of this officer or employee from March to June, since, according to the lawmakers, the majority of residency programs begin each July. In addition, the legislation would mandate that Foreign Service officers at relevant embassies receive training related to medical graduates and medical graduate programs.

“This (current) ineffective approval process must be improved so that these doctors can enter the US as planned, and provide the critical medical care needed in many communities throughout the country. Not resolving this dilemma would be extremely unfair to all and a disservice to the millions of Americans who seek treatment from these hospitals, especially in areas where there is a shortage of doctors,” said the Democrat Meng.

“This bipartisan bill doesn’t just address issues important to the State Department and the applicant; it will also benefit the patients of underserved hospitals by giving them access to medical care when they need it most,” Republican Emmer added.

According to WHO data, countries such as Cuba and Italy have more than 50 physicians/10,000 inhabitants, while US, UK, Japan and most OECD countries have less than 25 doctors per 10,000. There is no correlation between the GDP and the number of doctors, as well as between the average life expectancy and the number of doctors.



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