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< Back to current issue of Immigration Daily < Back to current issue of Immigrant's Weekly

New ECFMG Rules Make Obtaining J Visas More Difficult
by Greg Siskind and Amy Ballentine

Foreign physicians have been in the news a good deal lately, because of the termination of the US Department of Agriculture J-1 visa waiver program. While this decision has received substantial publicity, it is not the only one to have a negative impact on international medical graduates.

The Educational Commission on Foreign Medical Graduates (ECFMG), which is the only organization that can sponsor a foreign medical graduate seeking clinical training the US on a J-1 visa, has, over the past few months, made a number of changes that seem to be resulting in a decrease in the number of international medical residents. International medical graduates make up about 25 percent of medical residents in US training programs because there are not enough graduates of US medical schools to fill all the available residency slots. For years, foreign students were recruited to fill these slots, but recent changes seem to indicate that many would rather the slots go unfilled.

In 1998, the ECFMG began requiring international medical graduates to pass an English language test and a clinical skills assessment before being eligible for a J-1 visa. Because the clinical skills assessment is offered only in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, it is difficult for many to take it. Not only is there the trouble and expense of coming to the US for it, many people have reported having their application for a visa so they can come to the US for the test denied. Also, the fee to take the test is $1,200, which means many are simply not able to afford it. The implementation of this requirement led to a drop of about 20 percent in the number of J-1 visas issued to foreign medical graduates.

Now another change may make J-1 visas even less attractive. At the end of February, the ECFMG announced that it would no longer sponsor visas for people seeking clinical training in programs that are not accredited by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education. These programs, often referred to as “non-standard” programs, are directly associated with accredited programs, but because they involve cutting edge techniques and treatments, have not yet themselves been accredited.

According to the ECFMG, it has been told by the State Department that the Department of Health and Human Services maintains that the J-1 program is for use only for training in an accredited program. However, there are two factors that make this decision not as negative as it could be. First, ECFMG will be allowed to continue sponsoring international medical graduates for nonaccredited programs until June 30, 2003. Second, ECFMG maintains that it can sponsor a student for a J-1 visa for study in a nonaccredited program so long as the program is in a subspecialty recognized by the appropriate Specialty Board of the American Board of Medical Specialties.

ECFMG is also in the process of convening a meeting with a number of medical organizations for further discussion of this topic so that it can present recommendations on the issue to the Department of Health and Human Services.

Many observers and advocates are concerned that the Department of Health and Human Services will not change its mind on this issue, and that opportunities for international medical graduates to obtain training in cutting edge medicine will be severely limited.


About The Author

Gregory Siskind has experience handling all aspects of immigration and nationality law and has represented numerous clients throughout the world. Mr. Siskind provides consultations to corporations and individuals on immigration law issues and handles cases before the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the Department of State, the Department of Labor and other government agencies. Gregory Siskind is also committed to community service. He regularly provides free legal services to indigent immigration clients and speaks at community forums to offer information on immigration issues.

After graduating magna cum laude from Vanderbilt University, Gregory Siskind went on to receive his law degree from the University of Chicago. For the past several years, he has been an active member of the American Immigration Lawyers Association and he currently serves as a member of the organization's Technology Committee. He is the current committee chair for the Nashville Bar Association's International Section. Greg is a member of the American Bar Association where he serves on the LPM PublishGregory Siskind has experience handling all aspects of immigration and nationality law and has represented numerous clients throughout the world. Mr. Siskind provides consultations to corporations and individuals on immigration law issues and handles cases before the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the Department of State, the Department of Labor and other government agencies. Gregory Siskind is also committed to community service. He regularly provides free legal services to indigent immigration clients and speaks at community forums to offer information on immigration issues.

Greg regularly writes on the subject of immigration law. He has written several hundred articles on the subject and is also the author of the new book The J Visa Guidebook, published by Matthew Bender and Company, one of the nation's leading legal publishers. He is working on another book for Matthew Bender on entertainment and sports immigration.

Greg is also, in many ways, a pioneer in the use of the Internet in the legal profession. He was one of the first lawyers in the country (and the very first immigration lawyer) to set up a web site for his practice. And he was the first attorney in the world to distribute a firm newsletter via e-mail listserv. Mr. Siskind is the author of the American Bar Association's best selling book, The Lawyer's Guide to Marketing on the Internet. He has been interviewed and profiled in a number of leading publications and media including USA Today, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Lawyers Weekly, the ABA Journal, the National Law Journal, American Lawyer, Law Practice Management Magazine, National Public Radio's All Things Considered and the Washington Post. As one of the leading experts in the country on the use of the Internet in a legal practice, Greg speaks regularly at forums across the United States, Canada and Europe.

In his personal life, Greg is the husband of Audrey Siskind and the proud father of Eden Shoshana and Lily Jordana. He also enjoys collecting rare newspapers and running in marathons and triathlons. He can be reached by email at GSiskind@visalaw.com

Amy Ballentine is an associate in Siskind, Susser & Haas's Memphis, Tennessee office. She graduated Cum Laude with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English Literature from Rhodes College in 1994. While in law school at the University of Memphis she was a member of the law review staff as well as a published author. She also worked with the local public defender’s office in death penalty cases. In May 1999, she graduated Cum Laude from the University of Memphis Law School. She is a member of the American Immigration Lawyers Association. She can be reached by email at aballentine@visalaw.com


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