Nestled in the massive immigration bill that's being debated now in Congress are a handful of provisions that could ease the process that allows foreign-born physicians to practice in underserved areas across the United States.
The sweeping Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act (S.744) is more than 850 pages long and covers everything from border security to passport fraud. However, the sections dealing with revisions to the Conrad State 30 Program for recruiting foreign-born, but U.S. trained physicians could be of particular interest to rural and urban hospitals and physician practices that have had little luck recruiting U.S.-born physicians for their underserved patients.
"I am excited about this bill for many reasons, but the section on physicians is particularly good," says Carl Shusterman, a long-serving immigration attorney based in Los Angeles. "We've had the Conrad program since 1994 which allows each state to sponsor 30 foreign physicians each year to go to rural and urban medically underserved areas where they can't get Americans to practice."
"All in all it is a good program and over 1,000 physicians a year do get placed in these underserved areas," he says, "but like any program there are a bunch of flaws that we have being trying to correct for 20 years and this bill would correct most of them."
Shusterman says it's hard to predict if the bill will pass in the hyper-partisan Congress, where immigration is a divisive issue. The bill recently passed the Senate Judiciary Committee on a 13-5 vote and floor debate could begin this week.