Harder Pushes to Protect Immigrant Doctors from Losing Visas

April 23, 2020
Press Release
Amid Layoffs, Community Health Centers Worry About Worsening Provider Shortage

WASHINGTON – In response to concerns from local Community Health Centers (CHCs) regarding layoffs and provider shortages, Representative Josh Harder (CA-10) has asked the Congressional Select Committee on the Coronavirus Crisis to help immigrant doctors who are at risk of losing their visas. Immigrant doctors who are laid off because of budget shortfalls are required to find a new source of employment within two months or must leave the country. Many CHCs have already been forced to lay off personnel, meaning doctors on specialty visas could be forced to leave the country.

“The Valley is already low on doctors – we can’t afford to lose a single one – especially during a pandemic,” said Rep. Harder. “These are hardworking folks who want to help their communities - I don’t care where they came from, we need their expertise right here right now.”

“With patient visits down, California health centers are losing about $90 million a week. If trends continue, up to 77 health centers statewide may not be able to make payroll,” said Yamilet Valladolid, Manager of Government Affairs, Golden Valley Health Centers. “These shortfalls could have an impact on H-1B visa holders who currently practice medicine at these facilities. We’re already short on providers – we need to keep these folks here.”

Doctors who are forced to return to their country of origin can return to the United States only after starting the visa application process from the beginning. The H-1B Visa program, designed to allow immigrants with specialty skills to work in the United States, has also stopped expedited processing, likely meaning the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) will have a backlog once the country begins to return to normal. That would mean areas like the Central Valley, which are already short on providers, would stand to lose more personnel even after the pandemic is over. 

Representative Harder has also introduced the Stopping Doctor Shortages Act, which would help retain local doctors by allowing them to access student loan forgiveness.

The text of the letter is below and an original copy is available here.

 

Dear Chairman Clyburn,

Thank you for your leadership as Chair of the Select Committee on the Coronavirus Crisis. I write to urge you to take action to protect our medical professionals who hold H-1B visas, especially as these workers are essential to confront and combat the current epidemic.

Health centers across the country are being hit hard by the coronavirus crisis. They’re cutting down on appointments and procedures that can be postponed, and they’re losing revenue – patient visits are down nearly 60% for some health centers. That means budget cuts, furloughs, and layoffs of health professionals at a time when we need them most.

Many of these medical professionals are in the country on H-1B work visas, hired to fill the nation’s shortage of healthcare professionals, which is particularly problematic in California’s Central Valley. Because of H-1B rules, they can’t be furloughed, and if they’re laid off, they lose their visas and their community loses doctors, nurses, and physician’s assistants permanently. Now is not the time to be sending medical professionals away – their patients need them, their communities need them, and their coworkers need them.

More than 90 percent of the U.S. population is under a stay-at-home order right now. Requiring people – particularly healthcare workers – to move, and in many cases use public transportation, during this time is irresponsible. It could put them and the wide range of other essential workers with whom they would have to interact with at an unnecessary risk.

I am working on a bill to extend the 60-day grace period for an H-1B healthcare worker who loses his or her job to last for the duration of the Coronavirus crisis, so that even if their health center is struggling, they aren’t forced to abandon the community they serve in the middle of a crisis. I urge you to include my bill, which would solve this problem, in the next Coronavirus relief package.

The clock is already ticking. A worker laid off even two weeks after Governor Newsom declared his stay-at-home order would have to leave by the end of May. Thank you again for your leadership and for your time.