At least a quarter of all doctors practicing medicine in the U.S. are foreign born.
It is no wonder, then, that when work visas are denied to qualified physicians, American hospitals and patients are the first ones to suffer.
Each year, countless doctors patiently wait for “Match Day,” which is the day in March that they will find out which internship, fellowship program, or residency they are matched with, The Intercept reports.
Doctors from all over the globe participate, but this year, dozens of Pakistani doctors had their J-1 visas denied after being offered positions in American hospitals.
According to attorney Jan Pederson, who specializes in foreign physicians coming to America for these programs, this year marked an important record as simply too many visas were denied. As a result, she told reporters, hospitals in rural areas would suffer the most as they rely on these doctors to make sure the demand is being met.
With this “epidemic of Pakistani visa denials,” Pederson said, the U.S. health care system will undoubtedly collapse.
After President Donald Trump's “Muslim ban,” Pederson explained, it's impossible not to see these recent visa denials as a consequence of the president's policies. Still, she continued, there might be other factors at play. However, Trump's anti-immigration policies have definitely played an important role.
Because Pakistan is one of the top suppliers of foreign physicians to the country, Shahzad Iqbal, chair of the Committee on Young Physicians, said this wave of visa denials may jeopardize the well-being of American patients.
“This year, we had about 34 J-1 refusals that were reported to us. This is kind of a historic number,” Iqbal explained.
And while some who reapplied were able to have their visa request accepted, most of them ended up starting the program late.
Despite the high volume of denials, the State Department claims that “[t]here have been no significant changes specific to the J-1 visa application process this year.”
Still, people like Matthew Shick, the director of government relations and regulatory affairs at the Association of American Medical Colleges, think that Trump's policies have shaped how officials are handing out visas by upping vetting.
"As we face shortages, denying any physician that is accepted into a residency program is a bit shortsighted," Shick said.
Because these foreign physicians are ready to go where American doctors won't go, Pederson said, they are essential.
“They take care of the sickest of the sick and the poorest of the poor,” she added.
If Trump cares about Americans suffering in areas where medical care isn't widely available, he should review his immigration policies immediately. Otherwise, we may have another health care crisis to blame him for.
Banner and thumbnail image credit: Reuters/Esam Omran Al-Fetori