RELEASE: Immigrant Doctors Can Help Lower Physician Shortages in Rural America

Washington, D.C. — Immigrant doctors play a critical role in filling physician shortages in underserved rural communities. Yet they often face complex immigration and licensing barriers that prevent them from serving in these communities.

In “Immigrant Doctors Can Help Lower Physician Shortages in Rural America,” Silva Mathema, senior policy analyst of Immigration Policy at the Center for American Progress, uses interviews with immigrant doctors, as well as health and immigration statistics, to examine the physician shortages and health care crisis facing rural America and the difficult legal and regulatory obstacle course that immigrant doctors must navigate in order to practice in rural areas. She finds that even immigrant doctors who are eager to serve rural communities often have to search for opportunities elsewhere that resolve their and their families’ immigration-related woes.

“My interviews with immigrant doctors who care for patients in rural areas made clear that these doctors  bring a lot of passion and much-needed skills to areas that are facing significant physician shortages,” said Mathema. “It’s also clear that current state and federal regulatory frameworks pose barriers for immigrant doctors who want to work in rural areas. The United States needs reforms at all levels of government to harness the talents of immigrant doctors to help minimize physician shortages and ensure that patients in rural communities get the care they need.”

Mathema identifies several broad policy recommendations to make it easier for immigrant doctors to work in rural areas:

  • Make the Conrad 30 Waiver Program permanent. This program allows immigrant doctors who completed their residencies on J-1 visas to stay in the United States if they commit to practice in underserved communities for three years.
  • Increase the number of J-1 visa waivers provided through the Conrad 30 program in order to match state needs.
  • Remove J-1 visa waiver program restrictions that prevent doctors from changing employers.
  • Strategically reform the allocation of H-1B visas to tackle labor market shortages in high-need areas, raise wages, and end the random lottery system.
  • Clear immigrant visa backlogs and remove per-country caps on employment-based green cards for occupations facing high shortages.
  • Establish a task force to study states’ licensing requirements and processes, and implement solutions to remove barriers for immigrant doctors to re-enter their profession.
  • Streamline state residency requirements for licensing and simplify application processes for J-1 visa waivers.

For more information on this topic or to speak to an expert, contact Julia Cusick at or 202.495.3682.