Why Should I Recruit and How Do I Retain Someone on a J-1 Waiver?
This section contributed by Robert Aronson, Immigration Attorney
Unquestionably, physician recruitment into rural or underserved areas is a daunting task, particularly given the
existence of alternative and seemingly more attractive employment options elsewhere for physicians. However, our
immigration laws can serve to induce International Medical Graduates (IMGs) and, in particular, J-1 physicians to
commit to rural and underserved placements, essentially given a tradeoff between serving in hard-to-fill placements
with substantial and meaningful immigration benefits.
In short, our immigration laws can, in essence, channel highly qualified IMGs into rural and medically underserved
placements precisely owing to the possibility of gaining long-term immigration status in this country.
Here is how this whole recruitment process intertwines with immigration benefits.
Many IMGs come to the United States to undertake their medical residency or fellowship training programs under J-1
visas. This visa status restricts an IMG solely to working as a medical trainee. In addition, their J-1 status requires
them to return to their home country for two years at the conclusion of their program of Graduate Medical Education
(GME). As long as a J-1 physician remains subject to the two-year home residence obligation, they are effectively
foreclosed from gaining long-term immigration status in the United States.
Therefore, the first objective of a J-1 physician wanting to remain in this country is to get a waiver of this two-year
home residence obligation and here is where our immigration laws not only assist in the recruitment of IMGs to rural
and medically underserved communities, but actually give qualified employers a major recruitment advantage.
In light of the national importance of getting physicians to commit to rural and medically underserved communities,
U.S. immigration laws have created a waiver program, known as the Conrad State 30 Waiver Program. Here, each
state is granted 30 waivers for physicians who will be providing primary care or specialty care medical services either
in designated medically underserved areas or, in certain situations, in positions where the physician will be providing
critically-needed safety net services.
The employing institution needs to file a J-1 waiver application to the state department of health, checking first to
understand the state’s waiver policies and procedures. But if the state of intended employment issues a favorable
waiver recommendation to the federal oversight agencies, the J-1 physician is well underway to removing a
substantial barrier to his/her long-term residence in the United States.
But the waiver is not enough. Rather, once the waiver has been obtained, the employer then needs to sponsor
the IMG for a change from J-1 into H-1B Temporary Worker status – that is, change the IMG into an employment-
authorized visa status.
This whole immigration process does not only provide a pathway to eliminate the IMG’s obligation to return to the
home country, but it also builds in a retention element, given that the IMG is legally obligated to work for the J-1
sponsor for, at minimum, three years. In addition, an employer can creatively collaborate with the IMG to extend this
employment commitment for additional periods of time by undertaking sponsorship for permanent residence.
Why Should I Recruit and How Do I Retain Somone on a J-1 Waiver?