U.S. Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Jerry Moran (R-KS), Susan Collins (R-ME), and Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) today introduced bipartisan immigration legislation to boost the number of doctors able to work in America as part of the comprehensive immigration reform effort in the Senate. The bill allows international doctors to remain in the U.S. longer than their visas initially allowed under the condition that they practice in underserved areas such as rural communities. The bill is similar to legislation Klobuchar cosponsored last Congress.
"Right now we're educating and training countless doctors that are forced to leave the U.S. once their residency is over," Klobuchar said."This legislation will allow those doctors to remain in the country while at the same time ensuring that underserved communities have access to the high-quality health care they deserve, and I will work to ensure it is part of comprehensive immigration reform."
"Access to physicians and other health care providers is essential to the survival and success of Kansas towns and rural communities across the country,"Sen. Moran said. "We face a serious shortage of physicians in rural America. The Conrad State 30 program is a commonsense way to help address this medical workforce shortage by allowing more physicians to serve in the underserved communities that need them most."
"Considering the fact that our country faces a shortage of qualified doctors, it is simply unwise that our current immigration system requires foreign-born physicians, who are educated and trained here in the United States, to then leave the country," Senator Collins said. "Allowing our American-trained doctors to practice in our underserved communities will help expand access to quality health care in rural areas across Maine and lead to healthier lives."
"I am proud to continue Senator Conrad's work to bring more doctors to North Dakota in order to provide sorely needed medical care to our rural and underserved communities," Senator Heitkamp said. "All too often in North Dakota, folks have to travel great distances to receive the care they deserve. With such a demand in our state, it is common sense to make it easier for talented professionals to come here and practice."
"We are grateful for Senator Klobuchar's leadership and attention to the issue of increasing the number of qualified and well trained physicians and scientists, especially in rural areas," said Dr. Patricia Simmons, Executive Medical Director for Policy at the Mayo Clinic.
Currently doctors from other countries working in America on J-1 visas are required to return to their home country after their residency has ended for two years before they can apply for another visa or green card. The Conrad 30 program allows doctors to stay in the U.S without having to return home if they agree to practice in an underserved area for three years. The "30" refers to the number of doctors per state that can participate in the program.
The senators' legislation makes the Conrad 30 program permanent, ending the Congressional requirement to extend the legislation. It also allows for the program to be expanded beyond 30 slots if certain thresholds are met, while still protecting small states. The bill also allows the spouses of doctors to work, and provides worker protections to prevent the doctors from being mistreated.