USDA’s Suspension of Visa Program for Foreign Doctors Creates Anxiety Among Rural Hospitals
The suspension of U.S. Department of Agriculture participation in a visa waiver program that allows foreign doctors to stay in the United States if they agree to practice in rural communities is threatening the survival of rural clinics both in California and nationwide, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. Rural hospital officials are concerned that the loss of foreign doctors supplied by the program will lead to inadequate staffing at their facilities, which are "typically the sole source of medical care in their communities" and "have historically had a tough time attracting and retaining doctors because they have less money to recruit and to offer in salaries" (Colliver, San Francisco Chronicle, 5/13). Citing security considerations in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the USDA in March ended its participation in the J-1 visa program, under which foreign-born doctors agree to practice in underserved areas for three to five years. Last month the agency temporarily reversed its decision, saying it would process 86 pending requests for the visa waivers (California Healthline, 4/22). But the program remains in "limbo" because the USDA still "wants to stop processing future waivers," the Chronicle reports. A White House task force is now reviewing the program. "The rug was pulled out from under us," Dr. David Campa, chief medical officer for Golden Valley Health Centers, a system of 14 community clinics in Central Valley, said. While rural clinics might be able to make due this year without the program, Campa said that they "still need to have this pool available ... to make [the] chances of bringing in the right people higher" (Colliver, San Francisco Chronicle, 5/13). A second Chronicle story profiles Dr. Edida Soriano, a Filipino immigrant who has worked at the Golden Valley Health Centers' clinic in Merced for six years through the J-1 visa program (Colliver, San Francisco Chronicle, 5/13).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.