We hear the reports daily.  COVID-19 cases are spiking nationwide.  Hospitals and health care facilities are at maximum capacity.  Even with progress toward the availability of a vaccine, it’s not clear exactly when things will return to a state of normalcy.  Health care employers in many areas of our country continue to have difficulty recruiting physicians to meet patient needs. With the ongoing pandemic, this is more urgent than ever.

One option that may help health care employers when a US physician cannot be recruited is J-1 Waiver sponsorship of an international medical graduate.  Barring unusual circumstances, J-1 waiver sponsorship should result in a full-time employment contract with a highly qualified international medical graduate for a period of 3 years.

For eligible employers, sponsoring a J-1 Exchange Visitor physician who is completing graduate medical education and training in the US is done by filing an application with an appropriate government agency, often a state health department.  Most employer-sponsored J-1 Waiver applications are filed by healthcare providers that are located in Health Professional Shortage Areas (HPSAs) or Medically Underserved Areas (MUAs) or that treat underserved patient populations.  This includes the Conrad 30 J-1 waiver program in which all 50 states participate.  There are also a few region-specific waiver programs such as that of ARC (Appalachian Regional Commission) and the DRA (Delta Regional Authority), and waiver applications can be filed with HHS (Health and Human Services), among other agencies.

“J-1 Waiver Season” generally begins on October 1st with the start of the federal government’s fiscal year.  A few states have already received the currently permissible 30 waiver applications per fiscal year to close out their Conrad 30 programs until next October.  Many other Conrad programs and agencies continue to accept J-1 waiver applications so if you are a health-care employer in need, it may not be too late.

Sponsorship of a foreign national physician through the J-1 Waiver process can help meet patient demand and provide consistency of care over the 3-year commitment period.  Further, during the 3-year period, the physician may become well established in an area and agree to stay beyond the 3-year commitment.  This can greatly benefit an underserved patient population and bring much-needed relief to over-burdened providers.

To learn more about sponsoring a J-1 Exchange Visitor physician for a waiver, please contact me directly with inquiries at cwadhwani@foxrothschild.com or 412-394-5540.

Catherine Wadhwani is a Partner and Co-Chair of the Immigration Practice Group at Fox Rothschild LLP.  For more than 25 years, her practice has focused on business immigration law and compliance, primarily in the health care, general corporate and academic sectors.  Ms. Wadhwani’s practice covers the United States and Consulates worldwide.  She is based in our Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania office.  Please contact Ms. Wadhwani at cwadhwani@foxrothschild.com  or at 412-394-5540.