So take this factoid in — about a quarter of all doctors in America are foreign-born which means they have had to secure a J-1 visa. A J-1 is a non-immigrant exchange visa conditioned on an individual’s return to their home country for at least two years at the conclusion of the program. According to Shahzad Iqbal, a Pakistani-American physician in New York, in the wake of Trump’s Muslim ban, dozens of Pakistani physicians had their J-1 applications denied this year. According to the Intercept, without these doctors, our “healthcare system would simply collapse, with the pain felt most acutely in rural areas. U.S. medical schools don’t produce anywhere near enough graduates to meet the needs of the country, particularly in places where people are reluctant to move to.”
“This year, we had about 34 J-1 refusals that were reported to us. This is kind of a historic number,” said Mr. Iqbal who chairs the Committee on Young Physicians (which is a part of the Association of Physicians of Pakistani Descent of North America). Activists say there is little way to separate the emerging Pakistani physician ban with Trump’s Muslim ban and other severe immigration policies. “It would be hard to escape the conclusion,” states immigration attorney Jan Pederson.
Pakistan is one of the top suppliers of foreign doctors to the U.S. According to the U.S. Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, in 2015, 12,125 doctors of Pakistani descent were practicing medicine in the U.S., second only to India’s 46,137 doctors.
While the state department states that “there have been no significant changes specific to the J-1 visa application process this year,” many say that what is happening to Pakistani doctors is likely an indirect outcome of the White House’s immigration policies, specifically an increase with vetting. “[Pakistan] is not on the travel ban list, but in general there’s a lot of fear in the Pakistani community over changes that have been happening,” says Greg Siskind, an immigration attorney who also works with the International Medical Graduate Taskforce.
Mr. Iqbal fears what happened this year will impact Pakistani physicians in the future. “It’s scary for medical graduates because it is a ripple effect… Now, for next year, the program directors will be reluctant to take the Pakistani physicians there.”