Cite as "AILA InfoNet Doc. No. 02121842 (posted Dec. 18, 2002)"
United States Department of Health and Human Services
For Immediate Release
Tuesday, Dec. 17, 2002
Contact: HRSA Press Office
HHS To Expand Access To Care In Rural and Other Communities by Reviewing Waiver Requests Involving Foreign
HHS Secretary Tommy G. Thompson today announced new regulations to help rural and other communities suffering from a shortage of health care providers by allowing HHS to request waivers of a return-home requirement for foreign
physicians who trained in the United States.
Under the new regulations, HHS will expand its efforts to ensure that qualified physicians are available to improve access to care in health professional shortage areas and medically underserved areas.
live in these underserved communities deserve the same access to primary care as other Americans, and we will do all that we can to help these communities recruit qualified foreign physicians when necessary," Secretary Thompson said.
"We want to make sure that this critical source of talented physicians continues to be available to the communities that desperately need more doctors."
The new rules will allow HHS to review applications from community health centers, rural hospitals and other health care providers to waive return-home requirements for foreign physicians who come to America for medical training so that they can remain in the country to practice in underserved areas. HHS would
make recommendations on these requests to the State Department. The U.S.
Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) has the authority to grant
Normally under the State Department's J-1 visa program, foreigners who come
to the United States for graduate medical education must return to their home
countries for two years after they complete their training. However, the State
Department may recommend to the INS that it grant waivers of that requirement
when an interested government agency requests them to fulfill a legitimate
In the past, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) served as the
interested federal government agency that reviewed waiver applications to allow
foreign doctors to serve in rural, underserved communities outside Appalachia,
while the Appalachian Regional Commission played that role for Appalachian
communities. With the new regulations, HHS now will take over the role formerly
played by the USDA in handling applications for these J-1 waivers.
HHS will review the applications and verify the physicians' credentials
through a federal credentialing process before making recommendations to the
State Department. HHS also will coordinate its review process with state health
departments. HHS already reviews waiver requests involving foreign physicians
working in high-level biomedical research projects of interest to the
"By helping review these waiver requests, we can help increase the supply of
qualified physicians available to provide needed care in community health
centers and other locations in rural communities and other underserved areas,"
Secretary Thompson said. "Their contribution is critical to the success of our
broader efforts to expand Americans' access to care."
President Bush and HHS
have launched a five-year initiative to add or expand health centers in 1,200
communities by 2006 and to increase the number of patients served annually to
more than 16 million -- up from 10 million in 2001. In fiscal year 2002, the
first full year of the President's initiative, HHS funded 171 new health center
sites and awarded 131 grants to existing centers to help them build capacity and
To support the growth of the health centers, HHS is also
expanding its National Health Service Corps, which offers scholarships and loan
repayment plans to students and fully trained clinicians who agree to serve in
health centers and other underserved communities. The J-1 waiver program
complements those efforts.
In 2001, Secretary Thompson launched a broad Initiative on Rural America to
improve access to health care and social services in rural communities. In July,
the department's Rural Task Force issued a report highlighting new approaches to
improve access to services; strengthen rural families; support rural economic
development; improve coordination among state, local and tribal governments; and
conduct more and better research on the needs of rural communities.
HHS will publish the new regulations related to processing waiver requests in
the Dec. 19 Federal Register as an interim final rule with a 45-day public
comment period. Public comments would be considered to make appropriate changes
to the regulations.
Note: All HHS press releases,
fact sheets and other press materials are available at http://www.hhs.gov/news.