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Is the US Dependent on Foreign-Born Doctors?

Written By The Shapiro Law Group on April 12, 2019

The health care system in Illinois and in the U.S. depends on foreign-born doctors who come to the country to live and work. Often times through immigration lawyers, these doctors obtain special visas that allow them to work and live in the U.S. in exchange for serving in under-served areas. In many cases, rural areas do not have access to other doctors. If the Trump administration’s emphasis on restricting work visas extends to foreign-born doctors, many people will not have access to the medical services they need. Some areas would not have any doctors at all.

Shortage of Doctors

There is a shortage of medical doctors in the U.S. The Association of American Medical Colleges reports that the shortage is expected to increase to 120,000 by 2030. Foreign-born doctors make up as much as 17 to 20% of the practicing physicians in some states. Many come to the U.S. on student visas and complete their residencies in the country. To work after that, they must practice medicine in underserved areas for a minimum of three years. Once they complete the three-year working requirement, they are able to apply for green cards, often with the assistance of a Chicago immigration attorney. Eventually, they are allowed to apply to become naturalized U.S. citizens.

Tightening Legal Immigration

The Trump administration’s move to restrict immigration includes working to restrict legal immigration such as by foreign-born doctors. If foreign-born doctors are discouraged from coming to the U.S. to practice in underserved areas, many people would have no access to medical care. Some rural counties currently do not have any doctors practicing in them. The number of counties without doctors could be expected to grow if foreign-born doctors are blocked from getting visas to live and work in the U.S.

The shortage of doctors is compounded by several factors. The population has grown significantly, and the number of older adults is increasing as the baby boomers reach retirement age. Fewer Americans are choosing to become medical doctors, and many current doctors are choosing to retire.

The government should take the needs of the health care delivery system into account when immigration policies are considered. Foreign-born doctors serve a vital role in the medical care system, and they should be encouraged to continue coming to the U.S. and practicing medicine in under-served areas.