US recruits medical professionals from abroad as coronavirus cases rise

Willard Cheng, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Mar 28 2020 12:49 PM | Updated as of Mar 28 2020 06:11 PM

Nurses wait for a patient in a car to pull forward to be tested for coronavirus disease (COVID-19) at a drive-through testing site in a parking lot at the University of Washington's Northwest Outpatient Medical Center, during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Seattle, Washington, U.S. March 18, 2020. David Ryder, Reuters/File

US Embassy Manila: Only those with approved petitions or are participants in certified exchange programs are eligible

MANILA (UPDATE) - The United States said it was looking for medical professionals, particularly "those working on #COVID19issues" who wish to work in the US on a work or exchange visitor visa (H or J) as the country's coronavirus cases surged past 100,000.

In an advisory posted on its website, the US Department of State’s Bureau of Consular Affairs asked interested medical professionals to check the website of their nearest embassy or consulate for procedures to request a visa appointment.

This as nations around the world also struggled with an already overworked stable of health workers, with many themselves getting infected or placed under quarantine for exposure to the disease.

"We encourage medical professionals with an approved U.S. non-immigrant or immigrant visa petition (I-129, I-140, or similar) or a certificate of eligibility in an approved exchange visitor program (DS-2019), particularly those working to treat or mitigate the effects of COVID-19, to review the website of their nearest embassy or consulate for procedures to request a visa appointment," it said.

A Facebook post by the Consular Affairs said applying medical professionals "must have an approved U.S. non-immigrant or immigrant visa petition (I-129, I-140, or similar) or a certificate of eligibility in an approved exchange visitor program (DS-2019) to apply."

Foreign medical professionals already in the United States like J-1 Alien Physicians (medical residents) "may consult with their program sponsor, ECFMG, to extend their programs in the United States."

"Generally, a J-1 program for a foreign medical resident can be extended one year at a time for up to seven years," the advisory said.

In a separate announcement, the Bureau of Consular Affairs said the Department of State intends to continue processing H-2 cases "as much as possible, as permitted by post resources and local government restrictions."

While the Department of State suspended routine visa services at all U.S. Embassies and Consulates on March 20 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, embassies and consulates will continue to provide emergency and mission-critical visa services “as resources allow.”

“The H-2 program is essential to the economy and food security of the United States and is a national security priority. Therefore, we intend to continue processing H-2 cases as much as possible, as permitted by post resources and local government restrictions,” it said.

“Secretary Pompeo, in consultation with the Department of Homeland Security, has authorized consular officers to expand the categories of H-2 visa applicants whose applications can be adjudicated without an in-person interview. Consular officers can, if they so choose, now waive the visa interview requirement for first-time and returning H-2 applicants who have no apparent ineligibility or potential ineligibility.

“This expansion also increases the period in which returning workers may qualify for an interview waiver. Applicants whose previous visas expired in the last 48 months, and who did not require a waiver of ineligibility the last time they applied, do not need to be interviewed in person if they are applying for the same visa classification as their previous visa. We anticipate the vast majority of otherwise qualified H-2 applicants will now be adjudicated without an interview.”

According to the US Citizenship and Immigration Services, the H-2B program allows U.S. employers or U.S. agents who meet specific regulatory requirements to bring foreign nationals to the United States “to fill temporary nonagricultural jobs.”

To qualify under the H-2B nonimmigrant classification, the petitioner must establish that “there are not enough U.S. workers who are able, willing, qualified, and available to do the temporary work.”

The employer’s need is considered temporary if it is either a one-time occurrence, seasonal need, peakload need, or intermittent need.”

The US Embassy in Manila, meanwhile, clarified late afternoon Saturday that the call "only applies to individuals who already have approved petitions or are existing participants in certified exchange programs."

"Once the enhanced community quarantine is lifted, eligible applicants can contact the Embassy for an appointment," the embassy said.

Currently, all routine visa services at the US Embassy in the Philippines are suspended in compliance government's order for an enhanced community quarantine in Luzon.