President Trump’s executive order on immigration has already had dramatic effects, and promises many more.

Health care relies heavily on visa-holders: As many as 25 percent of physicians practicing in the US were born in another country.

But thousands of scientists, students, trainees, and even patients are likewise reliant on visas to work, study, and receive health care in the US.


Here’s a primer on some of the most common kinds of non-immigrant visas that health care professionals and patients might use.

Overseas patients: B-2 visa

The B-2 is a tourist visa — and also what patients who come to the US for medical treatment need to enter the country.

In 2015, 1,779 citizens of the seven countries barred from traveling in Friday’s executive order received for a B-2 visa, according to the State Department.

Academics attending a conference: B-1 visa

A B-1 visa is what you get when you need to come to the United States for business — which, the State Department notes, can include academics visiting for a conference. In 2015, 659 people from Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Yemen received this visa.

Few visas are issued as just a B-1 or B-2; more often, tourist visas are issued as a blended B-1,2 visa. In 2015, 54,875 people who were citizens of the seven countries listed in Trump’s executive order received one of these blended visas.

Medical students: F-1 visa

Foreign medical students, like other foreign students in the United States, have an F-1 visa. In 2015, 5,725 citizens of the seven countries in Friday’s executive order received an F-1 visa; over 1,500 dependent spouses or children came with them.

Postdocs, medical residents, and some medical students: J-1 visa

According to the American Medical Assocation, a J-1 visa is the most common type of visa carried by international medical graduates completing a residency in the United States. These visas are called “exchange visitor” visas, a name that makes more sense in light of the other professions that fall under a J-1 visa: au pairs, short-term scholars, interns, and camp counselors.

In 2015, 2,021 citizens of the seven countries included in Friday’s executive order received a J-1 visa; 824 other people came in as a J-1 visa holder’s spouse or dependent child.

Medical students may also qualify for a J-1 visa, according to Chicago-based immigration attorney Ronald Shapiro.

Doctors and scientists: H-1B visa

Maybe the best-known visa class for temporary workers, this category includes people who want to work in a “specialty occupation” in the United States.

The visa may be most strongly associated with the tech sector, but about 15,000 health care workers received an H-1B visa in 2014 — including over 7,000 doctors and surgeons.

Talia Bronshtein/STAT Source: Office of Foreign Labor Certification (OFLC) Performance Data

(A labor condition application is just the first step an employer goes through to get an H-1B visa, so not all these applications will result in a visa.)

Residents and postdocs could also fit under this category. Department of Labor data show that several hospitals have applied to sponsor foreigners under an H-1B visa. 

Talia Bronshtein/STAT Source: Office of Foreign Labor Certification (OFLC) Performance Data

Very few H-1B visas — just 254 — went to citizens of Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Yemen in 2015.

Some Chilean, Singaporean, and Australian doctors and scientists can also apply under nationality-specific classes that are similar to an H-1B; some health care professionals from Canada and Mexico might also be eligible for a separate visa class created by NAFTA.

Superstars: O-1 visa

This visa class is usually used for athletes and performing artists — think Pelé or Psy of “Gangnam Style” — but scientists can also apply. Nobel Prize winners could be eligible, as would people who can prove their scientific chops with scholarly articles, society fellowships, or other prizes.

Iran sent 24 people to the United States on an O-1 visa in 2015; two Sudanese citizens, one Iraqi citizen, and one Syrian citizen also received O-1 visas that year.

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  • As distasteful as it seems, I’m more disgusted with the way these foreign students and physicians are utilized in order to keep costs down. All one has to do is to look at the VA healthcare system. Have you ever seen an American doctor in the VA? They are rare. Why? Because it’s much easier to get a foreign M.D. to work under the existing deplorable conditions, for a fraction of what American M.D.s are paid.

    I’d much rather see Americans fill our medical school and residency placements. I’m not interested in welcoming foreign medical graduates, and especially foreign medical students, to take up coveted and needed medical school and residency spots. As for cheap medical labor, I’m in favor of a National Service program: two years of public service for every young person. That way our veterans would have the benefit of the best and the brightest Americans.

    • But being a foreign graduate doesn’t necessarily mean less quality! Actually you receive the best of the best! those people put huge efforts, and ace very tough exams before they are accepted to fill in the shortage!

    • I had to partially disagree with Fatin.

      While it’s true that some foreign grads are good, many are not. I am a 4th year medical student and just completed all my internships and attended many interviews throughout the country. My conjecture will be mainly based upon residency as this is the first step that many of these foreign docs try to enter and practice in the US.

      I did meet a few good foreign grads but majority were mediocre at the most. Although work ethics was good in general, most were lacking in communication skills.

      I think President Trump’s new policy in restricting H1 will hopefully put Americans first. Media claims that there are shortage of residency slots and it really does not make any sense to allow these foreign grads to take up these spots leaving our own American grads unmatched with plenty of student loan to pay off.

      Foreign grads spent less to attend medical school in their own countries. Also, One of the most difficult entrance exams North American graduates had to take was the MCAT. It literally weeds out many applicants from getting into medical school in the first place. If they are interested in coming into the US, they need to take any type of exams that North American grads had to take including all the necessary USMLE exams to qualify.

      A lot of these foreign grads also take at least one year off to boost their application to impress program directors by research and studying the step exams day in and out to maximize their scores; whereas North American grads have to study while performing crucial clinical rotations at the same time.

      We hear from the media more often than not that we need more primary care doctors and that there are shortage of primary care especially in the rural communities. They also claim that foreign grads contribute to these massive shortage and by limiting H1 visa, we will further jeopardize
      primary care dilemma. From my experience, this is not true. Many of these foreign grads that seek to apply to residency here in the US maybe initially would like to pursue primary care such as internal medicine but almost all that I met really would like to pursue subspecialty. And those that choose primary care, decide to practice in big metro cities like LA, SF, Chicago.
      Consequently, there is little contribution to our primary care shortage.

      I think if foreign grads really would like to come to the US and contribute, they need to take whatever residency spots left that are unfilled by Americans. This is a system that Canadian adopts. They have 2 reiteration system whereby the first match process is open to Canadians only. Then, whatever is remaining afterwards, is offered to foreign grads.

      Furthermore, to relieve primary care issues, there needs to be rules for this foreign grads coming in. For example, they can only apply to primary care residency without being able to specialize. They need to sign a contract to work in underserved community for at least 5 years. The Canadian system also has a system like this in place. It’s not the solution to everything as Canada also has massive shortage in primary care in certain provinces but I think implementing strict rules like this will benefit the system. It has been too long that the American system be exploited and taken advantage of.

    • Hi Jonathan,
      It’s sad to hear this from you. Well, it looks like you’re completely unaware of the competition that the foreign graduates face, especially from countries like India and Pakistan. In just one state of India, around 100,000 students appeared/applied for med school programs( compare MCAT) out of which only the top 150 were admitted in our med school. I agree we spend less on our med school education but that’s given the fact that only top students get into Government run colleges.
      The foreign medical graduates do appear for the licensing test and have cut off or average way above American graduate. Few of the very best students apply to the programs, and there is no doubt that the patient exposure way more than that in the US.

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