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What immigration problems mean for hospital medicine

August 2007

Published in the August 2007 issue of Today’s Hospitalist.

Are hospital medicine’s immigration headaches being ratcheted up a notch?

Earlier this summer, confusion “and then anger “erupted after the State Department promised to issue green cards to skilled professionals who filed an application by July 2. Thousands of immigrants, including foreign-born physicians working in the U.S. on temporary visas, dropped what they were doing to begin the application process.

They quickly learned, however, that those efforts were in vain. It turned out that there were never any additional green cards to be had, and that the State Department had made the announcement to prod the agency that processes green card applications into working faster.

When all the applications already in the pipeline were processed, there were no more green cards available. Making matters worse, the processing agency said that it was forbidden by law from even accepting the applications that resulted from what immigration lawyers have dubbed a “bait and switch.”

Officials have chalked up the whole episode to poor communication among different federal agencies, but it is emblematic of how this country’s approach to immigration is failing. The incident also raises serious questions about how problems with immigration will affect the physician workforce.

As our story on page 10 points out, changes in visa policy are at the top of a list of reforms that business leaders in hospital medicine say must be enacted to address the growing shortage of physicians. Episodes like the one that took place this summer can only make finding well-trained, foreign-born physicians that much harder.

The bitter tone of the national debate over immigration “and the recent failure of Congress to come up with a long-lasting solution “may be causing talented immigrants to rethink whether America is the right place for them. For health care in general, and specialties like hospital medicine in particular, such second thoughts could have disastrous consequences.

Edward Doyle
Editor and Publisher