About one-third of resident physicians in the U.S. are international medical graduates. Approximately half of those residents are noncitizens practicing under a specific non-immigrant visa, typically a J-1 visa. That creates a complicated dynamic, according to Christopher Sherin, the AMA’s assistant director of congressional affairs.
“The problem with the J-1 visa is it’s a foreign exchange program, and it says explicitly that a J-1 visa holder is required to go back to their country of origin for two years following the completion of their residency before you can even become eligible for another visa or green card,” he said.
Medical students recently took the opportunity to advocate for solutions to this problem—mainly the Conrad 30 program—during the AMA Medical Student Advocacy Conference. Here are some key takeaways from a conference education session detailing the issue and why it matters to medical students, the profession, and the nation’s health system.
A solution exists
Under the Conrad 30 program, each state is allocated 30 waivers that exempt J-1 physicians from the requirement to return to their country of origin in exchange for three years of service in an underserved community.
“We can really help the Conrad 30 program,” Sherin said. “We're trying to make targeted improvements to this program, make sure it's authorized for the long term.”
The “Conrad State 30 and Physician Access Reauthorization Act,” currently in front of the Senate and expected to be introduced in the House next month, calls for the Conrad 30 program to be reauthorized and improved. In speaking with lawmakers, medical students advocated for creating more slots in the program, enhancing employment protections, and garnering faster access to a green card for program participants if they work in an underserved community or VA facility for a total of five years. The AMA supports the bill (PDF).
Visit AMA Advocacy in Action to find out what’s at stake in clearing IMGs' route to practice and other advocacy priorities the AMA is actively working on.
AMA member Olumide Fajolu, a first-year medical student at University of Colorado School of Medicine, spoke of the impact Conrad 30 physicians can have on populations that are underserved by limited access to health care.
“I'm for Conrad 30 because it works to correct the health inequities that are frequently demonstrated in morbidity and mortality weekly reports from the CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention], which includes recommendations from the same state health departments that orchestrate this program.” he said.
The Conrad 30 program also offers physicians a chance to create a new life and increased opportunities for their families. Fajolu can speak to that firsthand.
“My father was an international medical graduate. He came to the United States in the '70s to practice surgery in New York City, and again in the '80s to practice cardiothoracic surgery at Kaiser Permanente,” he said. “His ability to work as a physician in the United States culminated in his citizenship and is a big reason why I'm able to speak with you today.”
Learn more with the AMA about immigration issues, visas and green cards.