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Immigrant doctors cannot rescue COVID-19 patients in the US due to visa restrictions

Shantanu Singh is an experienced resuscitator who is also trained in pulmonology, a medical specialty in the lungs. In short, he is exactly the doctor who is now urgently needed at the forefront of the coronavirus epidemic. But Singh cannot help the sick, because his visa does not allow this, writes The Intercept.

Photo: Shutterstock

While New York’s hospitals are overloaded, patients die in makeshift emergency rooms and wait for days in wards lying on gurneys in the hallway, the virus has not yet begun to wreak havoc in Huntington, West Virginia, where Singh lives and works. Singh's schedule allows him to take 15 consecutive days at work and travel to New York or another state to help people without even quitting. Singh would like to help.

“This is what I am trained,” he said.

But for Singh, it’s illegal to travel to places desperate for his help in the fight against coronavirus. Despite having undergone medical training and working as a doctor in the United States, Singh is a foreigner born in India. In the States, he cannot join American doctors anywhere else except the hospital that sponsored his J-1 visa.

“My skills are not used in this country,” the doctor says.

Singh is not alone. In the United States, more than 10 doctors who have been trained in the country but cannot work in any hospital other than their current employer due to visa restrictions. And this is despite the public health emergency.

More than a quarter of doctors in the US are foreigners. Among the trainees in the field of pulmonology and intensive care - specialists who are most needed for the fight against coronavirus - more than 40% are also foreigners. More than a third of these doctors have graduated from international medical schools, have visas to exchange visitors or other types of visas for temporary workers, such as H-1B, which limit their ability to work.

Problems due to visa restrictions, which previously caused a lot of trouble to foreign doctors, are especially unpleasant during a pandemic. Both New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and New York Mayor Bill de Blasio have recently made desperate calls for those with relevant medical skills to immediately take part in the fight against coronavirus. Even older doctors, who are particularly vulnerable because of their age, interrupted their retirement vacations and went to work to help fight the outbreak.

On the subject: The United States announced its readiness to issue visas to foreign doctors: why this led to a scandal

Ramakrishna Yalamanchili, a medical practitioner at the Logan Regional Medical Center, West Virginia, works in the United States on an H-1B visa. According to him, he cannot help "even our own hospital, if help is needed in another department." Of course, he also cannot go to another point in the country, although he is well trained in the fight against coronavirus infection. He is also worried that he may ultimately be unable to help his wife.

“What if, God forbid, I get sick with a coronavirus and something happens?” She will be deported back, ”says the doctor.

According to the Hospital Medicine Society, bureaucratic hurdles for doctors born abroad can be quickly removed. The organization appealed to Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and others to “act now” to give permanent status to the thousands of immigrant doctors who have been trained in the United States and are on the green card list. but not yet received. The group also requested that clinicians who received H-1B visas obtain permission to work in hospitals that did not fund their visas and to automatically renew their visas.

Even if the rules change quickly, these doctors will not have time to help some people. More than 14 thousand people in the US have already died from coronavirus - a number that is likely to be significantly underestimated due to insufficient testing. As the number of new cases of the disease continues to grow, and doctors at the forefront are increasingly sick, the shortage of doctors will only increase.

On the subject: About fear, war and people: sincere stories of a Russian-speaking doctor about the fight against coronavirus in the USA

Even before the advent of coronavirus, it was increasingly difficult for many foreign doctors to practice in the US, says Paavani Atluri, a doctor born in southern India and trained at the Monmouth Medical Center in New Jersey.

“The pandemic exacerbated the situation,” said Atluri, who cited a lack of protective equipment and testing, as well as strict visa restrictions. - We say that the US has the most advanced healthcare system. But the attitude towards the doctors makes me think about leaving. ”

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