On March 15, 2017, a federal judge in Hawaii issued a ruling that enjoined the Trump administration’s revised executive order intended to suspend admission of foreign nationals from six designated countries. On March 16, a second federal judge also blocked the 90-day ban on immigration for citizens of Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. In response, President Trump vowed to continue pressing forward until his immigration order is successful.
Why does this matter to the healthcare industry? The Trump administration is now focusing efforts on advancing two initiatives in areas in which, he had promised change while a presidential candidate: healthcare and immigration. The revised immigration ban, if it does go into effect, will impact healthcare by limiting the physicians who travel to the United States to practice medicine as well as the medical student population and resident physicians who travel here for education and training.
While the executive order does not apply to foreign nationals already in the United States in possession of valid visas, effectively banning immigration from these six countries is likely to result in a reduction of doctors and physicians in the United States. Many medical schools and residency programs include foreign nationals in their programs, the loss of whom will mean even fewer physicians in the future. Students and fellowship recipients from the impacted countries who have already been accepted to U.S. medical schools and institutions might not be able to obtain visas to start their education and training in the United States this summer. While the new executive order permits visa applicants at foreign consulates to apply for waivers, consular officers will review waiver applications on a “case-by case basis” leaving them much discretion.
Recent research by economists at Harvard and MIT counts over 7,000 physicians in the United States who are from one of the countries listed in the second travel ban. The potential for loss of physicians in rural states and small towns—areas that are already suffering from a lack of access to quality healthcare—can have a substantial impact on the number of available physicians. Add to this the number of undocumented individuals believed to currently be attending medical schools and residency programs in the United States, and the negative impact continues to grow on the access to healthcare.