Widespread J-1 Visa Denials for Doctors in India

Reliable sources have been reporting a wave of denials of J-1 visas for International Medical Graduates (IMGs) applying at U.S. Consulates in India. The scenario involves Indian physicians requesting J-1 exchange visitor visas to begin U.S. medical residency programs at teaching hospitals throughout the United States. We at the Murthy Law Firm explain this situation, and the efforts on the part of the Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates (ECFMG) for our readers.

The J-1 for Medical Residency

The J-1 visa is, by far, the most common route for IMGs to engage in U.S. medical residency programs. All J-1s for such residency programs are sponsored through the ECFMG. There are some hospitals willing to sponsor H1B temporary professional worker petitions for medical residents. These programs are in the minority. Additionally, due to certain additional testing requirements, not all IMGs qualify for H1B status at the outset of their U.S. residency programs.

Examples: J-1 After B-1/B-2 Visits Resulting in Denials

The Murthy Law Firm has been contacted by a number of doctors regarding recent J-1 visa denials in India. The apparent concern underlying these denials is that these doctors previously used B-1/B-2 visitor visas to travel to the United States in order to take the required U.S. Medical Licensing Exams (USMLE). Portions of the USMLE, known as “steps,” are offered only in the U.S.

Typically, the time in B-1/B-2 status is also used for attending residency interviews at U.S. hospitals as part of the selection process. These activities are entirely permissible on a B-1/B-2 visa, and the visitor’s visa is often issued to IMGs precisely for these purposes. The doctors facing these problems completed their B-1/B-2 visitor activities in the United States and departed the U.S. thereafter to comply with the B-1/B-2 requirements.

Apparent Confusion Regarding B-1/B-2 Followed by J-1

For reasons that are not entirely clear, the U.S. consulates in India are denying J-1 visa applications for such IMGs, apparently based on a misunderstanding that there was something improper about traveling to the United States in B-1/B-2 status to sit for USMLE exams or to attend residency interviews. Consular officers apparently have also cancelled the J-1 visa applicants’ existing B-1/B-2 visas in such cases.

These denials are inconsistent with the applicable regulations and U.S. Department of State (DOS) guidance. They are also inconsistent with long-standing practices. U.S. consulates have issued B-1/B-2 visas for many years to allow IMGs to engage in the initial steps needed to qualify for and gain acceptance in medical residency programs. Those who obtained passing test scores and were selected for residencies often applied for J-1 visas thereafter. This is standard practice as a way for IMGs to receive U.S. medical training. A significant percentage of U.S. medical residency positions at teaching hospitals throughout the country are filled in this manner.

ECFMG Trying to Resolve Problems

At this time, the Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates (ECFMG) is involved in discussions with the DOS to try to reverse these erroneous denials.

The ECFMG has requested that any physicians who have had their J-1 visas denied under these circumstances contact  Irene Anthony at ECFMG (ianthony@ecfmg.org). ECFMG has requested that physicians contacting them include the following: (1) a copy of the DS-160 form; (2) a copy of the passport biographical pages; (3) a copy of the cancelled B-1/B-2 visa; (4) a copy of the DS-2019 form; and (5) detailed information regarding the date and location of the J-1 visa denial.

Timing Concerns for Medical Residency Programs

Residency programs at U.S. teaching hospitals traditionally begin at the end of June or beginning of July each year. Physicians who have recently had their J-1 visas denied, therefore, have been placed in a precarious situation. Unless their residency programs are willing to defer their start dates until they can obtain the required J-1 visas, they risk losing their hard-earned positions. This also leaves hospitals with classes of residents that are “short.” Hospitals rely on residents, and the selection process is lengthy and systematized.

Conclusion: Try to Avoid this Problem

While it is hoped that the ECFMG discussions with the DOS will lead to a prompt resolution, this is taking some time and residency programs are slated to start within a week. Given these developments, if at all possible, physicians are being advised not to apply for their J-1 visas at the U.S consulates in India until this problem is resolved. Potential applicants who are not present in the United States should investigate the possibility of applying for the required visas at a U.S. consulate in another country. Some applicants who are present in the U.S. in another status, may benefit by applying for a change of status to avoid travel and delays / denials associated with applying abroad, though this alternative has its own timing concerns. There currently are no ideal options, as we await a prompt and favorable resolution and issuance of J-1 visas to medical residents, absent some proper legal basis for the J-1 visa denial.

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Disclaimer: The information provided here is of a general nature and may not apply to any specific or particular circumstance. It is not to be construed as legal advice nor presumed indefinitely up to date.