NRI doctors urged Congress to waive visas for Indian doctors

WASHINGTON, September 21 2004

A powerful body of Indian American doctors has demanded that Congress renew a programme that allows foreign-born doctors to stay in the US after their temporary work visas expire.

The American Association of Physicians of Indian Origin (AAPI) has joined rural and inner-city healthcare advocates in demanding the renewal of the Conrad-30 programme that expired on June 1, 2004.

The Conrad-30 programme allows foreign-born doctors, also known as International Medical Graduates (IMGs), to stay in the US after the expiry of their temporary J-1 work visas as long as they promised to work in America's most underserved communities like the rural areas.

Without this J-1 visa waiver, the affected IMGs - many of them from India - are required to go back to their country of origin before being permitted to apply to return to the US.

Representing the interests of over 38,000 doctors and 12,000 medical students and residents, AAPI is the largest ethnic medical association in the US serving the Indian American community.

AAPI believes that a key to ensuring quality medical care to as many Americans as possible is to scrap restrictions on the ability of Indian and other IMGs to practise medicine where their services are needed most.

Accordingly, beginning in the 1980s, AAPI has a longstanding history of advocating before Congress, state legislatures and state licensing boards on issues affecting this group of physicians.

Most IMGs enter the US under the J-1 visa programme for the purpose of graduate medical training and education. Between 1995 and 2002, the US Department of Agriculture helped 3,098 physicians in 48 states obtain J-1 visa waivers (from the Department of State) because they served an urgent need caused by a severe and continuing physician work shortage in rural America.

"The physician shortage in rural America is real. Physicians of Indian origin have traditionally been integral to filling this need and, equally important, to becoming long-lasting contributors to their community," said AAPI president Jagan Ailinani, who hails from rural Illinois.

"There is no doubt that this is a core issue for Indian American physicians; in fact, ensuring quality medical care for rural Americans is a crucial policy issue for all of us in the healthcare profession," he said in a press statement.

Ashok Jain of Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, chair of AAPI's Legislative Affairs Committee, added: "It is incumbent on AAPI to take a leading role in educating Congress on the devastating impact on these communities if the J-1 visa waiver programmes are allowed to lapse."

AAPI's ultimate goal is to provide the White House and the 108th and 109th Congresses with a comprehensive solution for physician workforce issues, a component of which is continued existence of J-1 visa waiver programmes.