The legislation – now cosponsored by a bipartisan group of 23 senators – would allow international doctors trained in the United States to remain in the country if they practice in underserved areas 

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Susan Collins (R-ME), Jacky Rosen (D-NV), and Joni Ernst (R-IA) announced that their bipartisan legislation to increase the number of doctors able to work in rural and medically underserved communities has gained significant momentum in the Senate. With support from Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL), Roger Marshall (R-KS), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Thom Tillis (R-NC), Joe Manchin (D-WV), Roger Wicker (R-MS), Kevin Cramer (R-ND), Tina Smith (D-MN), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Jerry Moran (R-KS), Rand Paul (R-KY), Elizabeth Warren (R-MA), Tom Carper (D-DE), and John Boozman (R-AR), the bill now has 23 cosponsors in total.

The Conrad State 30 and Physician Access Reauthorization Act would allow international doctors to remain in the U.S. upon completing their residency under the condition that they practice in areas experiencing doctor shortages. Companion legislation in the House of Representatives is led by Representative Brad Schneider (D-IL). Senators Angus King (I-ME), John Thune (R-SD), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), Chris Coons (D-DE), and Roy Blunt (R-MO) also cosponsor the Senate legislation.

“Over the last 15 years, the Conrad 30 program has brought more than 15,000 physicians to underserved areas, filling a critical need for quality care in our rural communities – a need that has only increased as we continue to combat the coronavirus pandemic,” said Klobuchar. “Our bill encourages doctors to use their talents and training in underserved communities, improving health care for families across the nation while retaining talent trained and educated here in the United States. I am proud to lead this much-needed legislation alongside a bipartisan group of my colleagues, and I look forward to it passing the Senate and being signed into law.”

“In order to address the severe shortage of doctors nationwide, it is simply common sense that we provide opportunities for American-trained and educated physicians to remain in our country and practice in areas where there is an unmet need for quality care,” said Collins. “By expanding access to health care in our rural and underserved communities, this bipartisan bill would promote healthier lives and ensure that families across the country receive the health care they deserve.  I am encouraged by the growing support for our legislation, which will help alleviate the burden on overwhelmed health care workers.”

“Even before the pandemic, Nevada faced shortages of health care providers in nearly every community, and particularly in rural areas,” said Rosen. “We must take commonsense action to address our state’s physician shortage, which is why I’m proud to see that this important bipartisan bill to increase the number of international health care providers in medically underserved areas has so much momentum. I will continue working with my colleagues to expand access to quality, affordable health care for all Nevadans.”

“Finding access to quality and affordable health care continues to be a challenge for folks in rural communities across Iowa, and the demand for doctors has only increased. I’m proud to see this critical bipartisan effort gain so much momentum—and I will keep working to get it across the finish line,” said Ernst.

The legislation has received the endorsement of the American Medical Association, the American Hospital Association, Federation of American Hospitals, the Niskanen Center, the Association of American Medical Colleges, the National Rural Health Association, the American College of Physicians, the American Academy of Neurology, and the Public Affairs Alliance of Iranian Americans.

“Since a large portion of my career has been spent practicing in rural, underserved communities, I recognize the importance of preserving patient access to high-quality health care. The Conrad state 30 program is an innovative way to not only facilitate greater patient access to physicians but also improve the diversity of the physician workforce. We are thrilled that almost a quarter of the Senate has co-sponsored S. 1810, the Conrad State 30 and Physician Access Reauthorization Act, and we applaud Sens. Klobuchar and Collins for their leadership. We urge the Senate to expeditiously pass this important bipartisan bill that makes much-needed, targeted improvements to the Conrad state 30 program,” said Gerald E. Harmon, M.D., President, American Medical Association.

“We are thrilled to see a record number of bipartisan Senators from across the country supporting the Conrad State 30 and Physician Access Reauthorization Act,” said Orly Avitzur, MD, MBA, President of the American Academy of Neurology. “For 28 years, the Conrad 30 program has helped Americans in rural and underserved areas receive medical care from high-quality physicians in their local communities. This program is especially critical for specialties like neurology that train a high number of international medical graduates who rely on J1 visas. Without a Conrad waiver, such visas would require these U.S.-trained physicians to return to their country of origin, not allowing them to practice in the U.S. for at least two years. The strong momentum on this bill would not have been possible without the dedication of the authors of this legislation. We look forward to enacting this policy to strengthen and provide long-term stability for this essential program.”

Currently, doctors from other countries working in America on J-1 visas are required to return to their home country after their residency has ended for two years before they can apply for another visa or green card. The Conrad 30 program allows doctors to stay in the United States without having to return home if they agree to practice in an underserved area for three years. The “30” refers to the number of doctors per state that can participate in the program.

This legislation extends the Conrad 30 program for three years, improves the process for obtaining a visa, and allows for the program to be expanded beyond 30 slots if certain thresholds are met. A version of the bill was included as an amendment in the comprehensive immigration bill that passed the Senate in 2013. The program was most recently extended in December of 2021 until February 18, 2022.

At the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, Klobuchar led a bipartisan group of 19 senators and 29 members of the House in a letter to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services calling on the administration to waive restrictions that prevent doctors on certain employment-based visas from providing medical services in rural areas. She also led a letter to USCIS with 24 senators and 13 members of the House, urging the Administration to resume premium processing for doctors seeking employment-based visas.

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