USDA Reconsiders Decision To Exit Foreign Doctors Program
The USDA yesterday notified lawmakers that it will reverse at least temporarily its decision to end participation in a federal program that allows foreign-born doctors to practice in underserved areas of the United States, the AP/Nando Times reports (Quaid, AP/Nando Times, 4/16). Under Immigration and Naturalization Service rules, immigrants admitted to the United States to participate in educational exchange programs receive a J-1 Visa. They must return to their home nations for two years after participation in the program before applying for an immigrant visa, permanent residence in the United States or an additional nonimmigrant visa. However, certain government agencies can request a waiver of the two-year home residence requirement. Since 1994, the USDA has participated in the Waiver of Recommendations for Foreign Physicians program, administered by the Department of State, requesting waivers on behalf of foreign-born doctors who agree to practice in underserved areas for three to five years. In March, USDA ended its participation in the program due to security considerations in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon (California Healthline, 3/28). At that time, USDA said it was returning 86 pending waiver applications. But in a recent letter to Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), the agency said it would process the pending requests, stating that the agency is "committed to providing health care opportunities to all Americans, including those in rural areas." USDA's sponsorship of the 86 foreign doctors is contingent on security clearance by the departments of State and Justice. HHS also will help verify the applicants' medical credentials and ensure the doctors complete their service agreement. In the letter, Deputy Agriculture Secretary James Moseley said that the White House is forming a multi-agency task force to review the program, the AP/Times reports (AP/Nando Times, 4/16).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.