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Washington, D.C. - Congressman Tom Emmer (R-MN) and Congresswoman Grace Meng (D-NY) have reintroduced the Grant Residency for Additional Doctors (GRAD) Act of 2017, legislation that would direct the State Department to streamline the visa approval process for international physicians who are scheduled to work at hospitals in the United States, many of them in rural and underserved areas that face severe doctor shortages.

Currently, foreign physicians scheduled to serve their residencies at American hospitals are encountering extremely long delays in obtaining J-1 visas from U.S. Embassies in their countries. These unnecessary holdups have resulted in major dilemmas for those doctors and the U.S. hospitals. In many instances, the delays have forced hospitals to withdraw offers from foreign physicians who had already accepted.

"I am pleased to work with Congresswoman Meng to improve access to care across the country,” said Congressman Emmer. “The GRAD Act takes steps to alleviate the physician shortage and address the J-1 visa backlog currently plaguing our health care system. It also works to ensure our foreign service officers working at U.S. Embassies around the globe have adequate training to streamline and speed up the approval process, all while increasing government oversight. This legislation not only helps doctors complete their residencies in America, it will bring much needed relief to hospitals, particularly our underserved citizens like those in rural Minnesota who are in great need of care."

“The excessive delays in the visa approval process for foreign doctors are only making our country’s doctor shortages even worse,” said Congresswoman Meng. “There are many underserved communities that count on foreign doctors to fill critical positions in their hospitals, and the visa approval process can prevent these doctors from helping people in need of medical care. But this is a problem with a simple solution. Let’s remove the unnecessary barriers that prevent foreign physicians from receiving their visas on time.”

Emmer and Meng's bill would require the Secretary of State to designate a State Department officer or employee to facilitate the expedited review of J-1 visa applicants slated to travel to the U.S for graduate medical education or training. The measure would also require that the expedited review be the sole responsibility of this officer or employee from March to June, since the majority of residency programs begin each July. In addition, the legislation would mandate that Foreign Service officers at relevant embassies receive training related to medical graduates and medical graduate programs.

The J-1 is a temporary nonimmigrant visa that international physicians use to work in U.S. medical residency programs.