Magazine article Clinical Psychiatry News

Visa Cutbacks Hurt Foreign Psychiatrists. (Fewer Waivers Issued Post-Sept. 11)

Magazine article Clinical Psychiatry News

Visa Cutbacks Hurt Foreign Psychiatrists. (Fewer Waivers Issued Post-Sept. 11)

Article excerpt

The Cabrini Clinic in Detroit badly needs a psychiatrist to help its poor clients. Dr. Gonna Velehorschi wants to work at the clinic. All that stands in the way of this union is U.S. immigration law

Dr. Velehorschi, a resident at the Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, is a Canadian citizen, born and raised in Romania. Her husband--also a Romanian with Canadian citizenship--is an automotive engineer who is legally allowed to work in the United States. Both of their children were born in the United States and therefore are citizens.

But unless she finds a legal solution, Dr. Velehorschi will have to leave her family and practice in Romania for 2 years if she wants to return to practice psychiatry in the United States.

"It's more than frustrating," Dr. Velehorschi said. "We are not being evaluated on our skills and on the usefulness we might have."

Hers is an example of the quandary facing many foreign medical residents studying in the United States onJ-1 visas. It's an issue that is particularly vexing to psychiatrists; many states do not include psychiatry in the list of specialties eligible to participate in a program allowing doctors to practice here.

Under the terms of theJ-1 visa, foreign medical students may study in the United States, but they must return to their home countries to practice for at least 2 years before they can come back to the United States to practice. Federal law allows for waivers under the program if a student can find an "interested government agency" that will sponsor the physician to practice in a medically underserved area.

However, since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the willingness of federal agencies to grant such waivers has shriveled. In fact, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which granted the mostJ-1 visa waivers for practice in rural areas, formally stopped issuing waivers in February.

The other option, known as the Conrad State 20 Program, offers hope to many residents, but often not to psychiatrists. The brainchild of Sen. Kurt Conrad (D-N.D.), the program allows each state to issue 20 waivers of its own each year--and to determine the criteria for those waivers. About two dozen states, including Michigan, limit those waivers to primary care physicians and exclude psychiatrists. …

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