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What APA is Doing for You: Protecting IMGs a Major Priority as COVID-19 Crisis Continues

     

As the public health crisis caused by the COVID-19 virus continues to tax health care resources and infrastructure, it is clear that we must use every resource at our disposal to effectively fight the spread of illness and ensure that our patients can access essential health services, including mental health care.

That is why APA has joined with 10 other medical organizations in sending a letter to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) urging them to temporarily extend visas automatically for one year, resume the premium processing that was put on hold on March 20, and expedite approvals of extensions and changes of status for non-U.S. citizen international medical graduates (IMGs) practicing, or otherwise lawfully present, in the U.S.

The unprecedented situation caused by this pandemic has caused residents and fellows across the country to be called into action to care for COVID-19 patients, underscoring the already alarming physician shortages, particularly in the psychiatric workforce, in the U.S. In addition, it has become clear health disparities experienced by minority and underrepresented groups in the U.S. before COVID-19 are now being exacerbated by the pandemic.

IMGs can and are playing a crucial role in providing care to COVID-19 hotspots, and in filling the care gap in areas of the country with a shortage of physicians, particularly in rural areas. Approximately 30% of active psychiatrists in the U.S. are IMGs.

These IMGs often work in underserved and rural areas to meet their waiver requirements before applying for permanent resident status. IMGs help to facilitate cross-cultural training and learning that is crucial to giving those people from international communities who suffer from serious mental illness the treatment they need in a way that is both effective and respectful of their cultural heritage.

We have urged the USCIS and the administration to protect the spouses and dependent children of IMGs working on H1B visas by automatically granting a one-year extension of their H-4 visas. The IMGs who have sacrificed so much working to better the lives of U.S. patients should not be separated from their families, especially during a pandemic.

IMGs provide crucial health care services that we cannot afford to be without, particularly in the age of COVID-19. It is imperative that IMGs be allowed to continue their important work without fear of the loss of their immigration status, or that or their families.

We hope the USICS and the administration will move quickly to enact our recommendations and protect a vital group of physicians working daily to help save American lives.

What APA is Doing for You

This blog post is part of an occasional series highlighting how APA advocates on your behalf to support the profession of psychiatry and put our interests before key policymakers.

     

Post by Saul Levin M.D., M.P.A.

Saul Levin, M.D., M.P.A., FRCP-E, is APA's CEO and Medical Director. Read Dr. Levin's full biography

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