On Monday, May 11, 2020, USCIS issued a policy memo titled, “Temporary Policy Changes for Certain Foreign Medical Graduates During the COVID-19 National Emergency.”
This USCIS memo addresses a few of the many issues currently facing International Medical Graduates (“IMG”) as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, including:
- In situations in which an H-1B foreign medical graduate is temporarily unable to work full-time due to quarantine, illness, travel restrictions, or other consequences of the pandemic during the declared Public Health Emergency period, USCIS officers will not consider such a failure to work full-time to be a failure to fulfill the terms of the contract under INA 214(l)(2)(B), as a matter of policy.
- For those foreign medical graduates currently employed by an IGA or through the Conrad State 30 program, USCIS interprets current regulations to allow those physicians to provide telehealth services during the Public Health Emergency.
- Provisions relating to the full-time work requirement will apply to any lapse in full-time employment related to COVID-19 that occurred from the beginning of the Public Health Emergency on January 27, 2020, through the end of the Public Health Emergency. Telehealth services provisions will be effective from the publication date of this policy memorandum through to the end of the Public Health Emergency.
However, this memo is strictly limited to 214(l)(2)(B) compliance (or, the three year, full-time compliance requirement of most J-1 waivers) so Employers may still be required to amend an H-1B Petition accordingly if there are wage/hour changes. USCIS very clearly clarifies that despite changes having no impact on the fulfillment of the three year service obligation, “It [the memo] does not affect a petitioning employer’s responsibilities under the statutes and regulations relating to H-1B nonimmigrants.”
USCIS also addresses a critical component of not only our current COVID-19 reality, but the reality of the provision of medicine generally, moving forward: Telemedicine. However, the telemedicine portion is also limited specifically to the provision of telemedicine in the designated area and only became effective May 11, 2020. USCIS states, “In no instance should the foreign medical graduate, other than a graduate employed by the VA, provide telehealth services to patients outside of the state of their contracting facility.”
Employers and practitioners should be aware that, despite this easing of two aspects of the J-1 waiver compliance, H-1B Petition amendments may be required if hours drop less that F/T and/or there are salary changes that impact the H-1B Petition. It also remains unclear if this memo will apply affirmatively to J-1 waiver cases moving forward as there are additional government agencies involved in the J-1 waiver process including the state departments of health and the DOS.
If you have questions on how this memo may impact your pending case, please contact SPS Immigration using our online contact form. Stay safe!