HHS To Become Interested Government Agency for J-1 Waivers

Cite as "Posted on AILA InfoNet at Doc. No. 02121842 (Dec. 18, 2002) ."

United States Department of Health and Human Services
News Release
For Immediate Release
Tuesday, Dec. 17, 2002
Contact: HRSA Press Office
(301) 443-3376

HHS To Expand Access To Care In Rural and Other Communities by Reviewing Waiver Requests Involving Foreign Doctors

HHS Secretary Tommy G. Thompson today announced new regulations to help rural and other communities suffering from a shortage of health care providers by allowing HHS to request waivers of a return-home requirement for foreign physicians who trained in the United States.

Under the new regulations, HHS will expand its efforts to ensure that qualified physicians are available to improve access to care in health professional shortage areas and medically underserved areas.
"People who live in these underserved communities deserve the same access to primary care as other Americans, and we will do all that we can to help these communities recruit qualified foreign physicians when necessary," Secretary Thompson said. "We want to make sure that this critical source of talented physicians continues to be available to the communities that desperately need more doctors."

The new rules will allow HHS to review applications from community health centers, rural hospitals and other health care providers to waive return-home requirements for foreign physicians who come to America for medical training so that they can remain in the country to practice in underserved areas. HHS would make recommendations on these requests to the State Department. The USCIS has the authority to grant waivers.

Normally under the State Department's J-1 visa program, foreigners who come to the United States for graduate medical education must return to their home countries for two years after they complete their training. However, the State Department may recommend to the USCIS that it grant waivers of that requirement when an interested government agency requests them to fulfill a legitimate public purpose.

In the past, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) served as the interested federal government agency that reviewed waiver applications to allow foreign doctors to serve in rural, underserved communities outside Appalachia, while the Appalachian Regional Commission played that role for Appalachian communities. With the new regulations, HHS now will take over the role formerly played by the USDA in handling applications for these J-1 waivers.

HHS will review the applications and verify the physicians' credentials through a federal credentialing process before making recommendations to the State Department. HHS also will coordinate its review process with state health departments. HHS already reviews waiver requests involving foreign physicians working in high-level biomedical research projects of interest to the department.

"By helping review these waiver requests, we can help increase the supply of qualified physicians available to provide needed care in community health centers and other locations in rural communities and other underserved areas," Secretary Thompson said. "Their contribution is critical to the success of our broader efforts to expand Americans' access to care."
President Bush and HHS have launched a five-year initiative to add or expand health centers in 1,200 communities by 2006 and to increase the number of patients served annually to more than 16 million -- up from 10 million in 2001. In fiscal year 2002, the first full year of the President's initiative, HHS funded 171 new health center sites and awarded 131 grants to existing centers to help them build capacity and expand services.
To support the growth of the health centers, HHS is also expanding its National Health Service Corps, which offers scholarships and loan repayment plans to students and fully trained clinicians who agree to serve in health centers and other underserved communities. The J-1 waiver program complements those efforts.

In 2001, Secretary Thompson launched a broad Initiative on Rural America to improve access to health care and social services in rural communities. In July, the department's Rural Task Force issued a report highlighting new approaches to improve access to services; strengthen rural families; support rural economic development; improve coordination among state, local and tribal governments; and conduct more and better research on the needs of rural communities.

HHS will publish the new regulations related to processing waiver requests in the Dec. 19 Federal Register as an interim final rule with a 45-day public comment period. Public comments would be considered to make appropriate changes to the regulations.


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