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U.S. Senators Susan Collins (R-ME), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Jacky Rosen (D-NV), and Thom Tillis (R-NC) introduced bipartisan legislation to build the healthcare workforce in rural and medically underserved areas. The Conrad State 30 and Physician Access Reauthorization Act, cosponsored by Senator Angus King (I-ME), would allow international doctors to remain in the U.S. upon completing their residency under the condition that they practice in areas experiencing doctor shortages.

The legislation is endorsed by the American Medical Association, the American Hospital Association, the Federation of American Hospitals, the National Rural Health Association, the Niskanen Center, the American Academy of Neurology, and the Public Affairs Alliance of Iranian Americans.

The Conrad State 30 and Physician Access Reauthorization Act extends the Conrad 30 program for three years, improves the process for obtaining a visa, and allows for the program to be expanded beyond 30 slots if certain thresholds are met. The bill also provides worker protections to prevent doctors from being mistreated. A version of the bill was included as an amendment to the comprehensive immigration bill that passed the Senate in 2013.

The Conrad 30 Waiver program allows states to waive the two-year home residency requirement for J-1 visa holders who agree to practice medicine in an underserved area for at least three years. Under the bill, the number of waivers that a state can obtain each year would be increased from 30 to 35, and the program would be extended for three years.

“As we work to address medical workforce shortages, it’s critical that we make sure talented doctors trained and educated here in the U.S. can remain in our country,” said Senator Klobuchar. “The Conrad 30 program has brought nearly 20,000 physicians to underserved areas, filling a critical need for quality health care in our rural communities. Our bipartisan bill to reauthorize this program would encourage doctors to use their talents and training in underserved communities, improving health care for families across the nation and boosting our rural medical workforce.”

The bill would also make a number of other changes to the Conrad 30 Waiver program, including:

– – Allowing alien physicians to be employed at an academic medical center to meet the program’s employment requirements if the alien’s work is in the public interest, even if the medical center is not in an underserved area.
– – Requiring employment contracts for alien physicians under the Conrad program to contain certain information, such as the maximum number of on-call hours per week the physician shall have to work.
– – Allowing states to use waivers to recruit and retain physicians who have already practiced in underserved areas for at least three years.

The bill has not yet been passed by the Senate, but it is expected to be considered in the coming months.