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Senate Bill Would Free Up More Visas for Immigrant Doctors

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Wednesday, September 9, 2020   

STEVENS POINT, Wis. -- The U.S. Senate is back in session. And while another pandemic relief package will receive focus, another bill aims to boost the number of health-care professionals, by freeing up unused visas for foreign-born physicians.

According to a Wisconsin doctor, the move is drastically needed.

Prior to the pandemic, the United States was already facing a health-care worker shortage, and international medical graduates were helping to close some gaps, especially in rural areas.

Dr. Sonal Chandratre, a pediatrician in Stevens Point, said not only are these doctors constantly worried about their immigration status -- they can't be dispatched to COVID-19 hot-spots where more doctors and nurses are needed.

"We are trying to help out," said Chandratre. "but we are told, 'No, you just have to have to be a silent observer because this is what the law is.'"

The Healthcare Workforce Resilience Act would allocate 40,000 unused visas for international medical graduates or 'IMGs,' and speed up the application process for health-care professionals born outside the country.

According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, more than 19% of Wisconsin physicians are IMGs.

Chandratre and her husband both practice medicine in Stevens Point. They're working in the U.S. legally, but it's entirely dependent on his temporary status.

She said if her spouse were to die from helping COVID patients, she would be forced to leave with their children, back to her native India.

"I would not be sad or disheartened, but I'd just feel that I wasn't given enough opportunity to serve," said Chandratre.

She said not only do these laws affect the doctors and their families, but they also hinder smaller communities that have become increasingly reliant on health-care professionals willing to serve them.

The Senate bill has 36 co-sponsors, with both Republicans and Democrats expressing support.


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