The COVID-19 pandemic is certainly extraordinary, causing unimaginable numbers of deaths, disrupting the joys of daily life all around the world, and wreaking havoc with work and the sources of economic livelihood. While we wish good health for all, we send a special thank you to all the healthcare workers who are on the front lines battling to save lives.
The practice of US immigration law at SGG is helping to combat the public health crisis by facilitating immigration for certain healthcare worker specialists and filling the persistent gaps in the public healthcare network in rural settings and underserved communities.
With regard to immigration processing generally, social distancing and stay home orders – which require many government offices to reduce staff and hours — only exacerbate the problems with a system that operates at a snail’s pace anyway. Even longer delays in processing applications for immigration benefits are the new norm. Even so, SGG partner Kathy Grzegorek successfully convinced US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) it should expedite and approve the application of our client medical center to confer H-1B professional worker status on a foreign-born medical resident so she could continue in her specialized area of working with at-risk children susceptible to COVID-19. The application for this physician prevailed on the basis of demonstrated urgent humanitarian reasons and US government interest in public safety.
In another COVID-19 influenced case that features a different visa category, our client seeks expedited approval of an O-1 visa for a renowned expert in pulmonary medicine to join the medical school faculty. The visa would authorize the physician to participate in current groundbreaking research related to COVID-19, which is a respiratory disease that targets the lungs. The O-1 visa requires proof of extraordinary ability by sustained national or international acclaim and is available only to the small percentage of experts who have risen to the very top of the field of endeavor.
In other healthcare worker cases, SGG partner Elsie Arias is seeking expedited approvals for primary care facilities located in low-income, medically underserved areas to employ foreign-born physicians in pediatrics, internal medicine, and psychiatry. These areas – long neglected in terms of public health — are considered among the high-risk communities for the spread of COVID-19. Typically, foreign-born medical professionals in the United States with the J-1 exchange visa are subject to a 2-year foreign residence requirement before changing their status in the United States to either the H-1B work visa or permanent residence. One avenue of a waiver of the foreign residence requirement is job sponsorship by a healthcare facility in a medically underserved area and a supporting request by a state public health department. (Sponsorship by an interested federal government agency also could be the basis for a waiver on behalf of a foreign physician committed to work in a healthcare shortage area.) Once these applications are approved, SGG clients will employ these physicians for a minimum three-year term in H-1B status in areas suffering from twice the national poverty rate and a history of lower access to primary care.
For more information about the healthcare practice of SGG, contact SGG partners Kathy Grzegorek (Kathy@sggimmigration.com) and Elsie Arias (Elsie@sggimmigration.com), both Certified Specialists in immigration and nationality law, State Bar of California.
* Lincoln Stone is a Certified Specialist in immigration and nationality law, and also holds a Master of Science Global Health.