On June 22, the Trump administration released a barrage of new restrictions on work visas. The intent, allegedly, is to expand opportunities for Americans due to high unemployment related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
But intent does not necessarily align with impact, and the impact here is devastating both for affected individuals and for the health-care system at the University of Virginia and beyond.
This is only the most recent in series of restrictions that have made it harder for foreign-born physicians to work in America. Although these rulings attempt to exempt health-care providers, in practice this has not been the case, and UVa physicians are seeing their careers derailed and families torn apart.
Immigrants are indispensable to our health-care workforce. This is evident in the make-up of our resident physicians, the newly minted doctors who help run academic medical centers like ours.
Of the 37,256 physicians slated to begin their residency training this summer, 4,222 were born outside of the United States. In our field, pathology — which encompasses the study and diagnosis of disease — immigrant physicians comprise 33.8 % of incoming trainees nationwide.
To be clear: There is no queue of qualified, unemployed Americans ready and eager to do this work. These are positions that, if not available to our highly qualified foreign-born candidates, would go unfilled.
From biopsies to blood tests, pathology results are critical for patient care. Institutions like ours are fortunate to have immigrant health-care providers willing to share their expertise to ensure that those results are correct.
Many physicians — including one of the authors — have had their personal and professional lives torpedoed by this ruling and those that preceded it. But the suffering does not end with us; it extends to our patients, who will not have access to the high-quality diagnostic services if America continues to slam its doors on immigrants.
The fallacy and cruelty of draining expertise from the field of medicine centered on laboratory diagnosis — including COVID-19 testing — during a pandemic should terrify us as much as it angers us.