JANUARY 12, 2007: PRESIDENT BUSH SIGNS H.R. 4997, the "Physicians for Underserved Areas Act".
Awaited legislation was signed by President Bush pertaining to the J-1 visa program for foreign doctors who work in medically underserved areas of the United States. The bill had passed in the House of Representatives by a voice vote on 12/6/06 and had been passed in the Senate unanimously on 12/9/06. On 1/12/07, President Bush signed the bill which addresses physician shortages and attempts to improve public health. H.R. 4997 will extend for two years a visa waiver program and will allow foreign doctors who work in underserved areas to remain in the country after completing their medical training. Usually J-1 visa holders who come to America for medical or graduate studies are required to leave the country for two years before applying to return. A 1994 law (PL 103-416) created a program to waive that requirement for foreign physicians who agree to spend three years working with patients in medically underserved areas. The authorization for the program expired on June 1, 2006. H.R. 4997 will reinstate the visa waiver program for a period of two years.
Bureau of Health Professions Shortage Designation
The Shortage Designation Branch in the HRSA Bureau of Health Professions National Center for Health Workforce Analysis develops shortage designation criteria and uses them to decide whether or not a geographic area or population group is a Health Professional Shortage Area or a Medically Underserved Area or Population.