USDA Terminates Support of J-1 Waivers
On March 1, the Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced that it had suddenly terminated its program permitting International Medical Graduates (IMGs) who have completed medical residencies and/or fellowships in the U.S. to practice in medically-underserved rural areas in exchange for a waiver of the home residency requirement:
"As a result of its program review, USDA has come to the conclusion that while the program served valid and important purposes, the benefits of USDA's involvement are clearly outweighed by potential problems and risks. Therefore, effective February 27, 2002, USDA will no longer act as an interested government agency on behalf of those desiring recommendation of a J-1 visa waiver. Pending waiver requests will be returned to the sender."
The termination of the USDA program, if not immediately remedied, will have devastating consequences for rural America. According to a federally-funded study, over 30% of rural counties have shortages of physicians. If all IMGs practicing primary care in rural counties were removed from the calculation, this number would rise to over 44%. In addition, the number of rural counties with no primary care physicians would rise from 161 to 212. During the past eight years, the USDA has sponsored over 3,000 primary care physicians to work in rural America.
Why has USDA terminated its physician program? We can only speculate. Apparently, all USDA international programs were suspended after the terrorist attacks of September 11. Although many of these programs have been restored, the J waiver program for physicians has not. The USDA was apparently frustrated about having to maintain a program that was not funded by Congress. Also, for reasons that have more to do with history than logic, the program was located within the Agricultural Research Service rather than in the Rural Development program. The latter program has offices around the U.S., and would be in a better position to monitor compliance.
All rural health care providers, physicians, and rural Americans concerned about their health care are urged to fax and e-mail their Congressmen and Senators. Tell them about the value that J-1 physicians have provided to rural communities and ask them to contact Secretary of Agriculture Ann Veneman to request that the USDA program be continued.
To contact your Congressman and Senators, see http://www.congress.org Please fax and e-mail brief letters requesting that this excellent program be reinstated.
Also, please write to Secretary Veneman directly. Feel free to use, with modifications, the following sample letter on our web site (provided courtesy of Jan Pederson, Esq.):
We will be flying to Washington, D.C. this week to confer with Senators who serve on the Immigration Subcommittee concerning this important issue. Together, we can make a difference!
About The Author
Carl Shusterman is a certified Specialist in Immigration Law, State Bar of California