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Des médecins étrangers en première ligne du COVID-19 craignent d'être expulsés des États-Unis

Des médecins étrangers en première ligne du COVID-19 craignent d'être expulsés des États-Unis

Temps de lecture: 4 minutes

WASHINGTON — When Sujit Vakkalanka felt he was showing symptoms of COVID-19, he was, naturally, worried about his health. But as the 31-year-old from India waited for the results of his test, he was also concerned about something else: the visa allowing him to remain working in the U.S.

As with many foreign doctors on the front lines of the pandemic in America, Vakkalanka’s H-1B visa is tied to his employment, and he fears he could lose his status if he remains sick and is unable to return to work promptly at a hospital in southwest Virginia.

“If you don’t keep working, you might sometimes be deported,” the internist said.

Vakkalanka said he wasn’t surprised he was running a fever. The hospital has seen multiple cases of coronavirus, including a patient he treated directly. And when two practitioners with symptoms went into self-isolation, he was called in on a day off. Professionally, he had no qualms about going to work.

“This is our profession,” he said. “This is our job.”

On Saturday, his test results came back negative, but he was told to remain in self-isolation until the symptoms subside. But beneath his sense of duty lies the anxiety over his visa — already uncertain given that it is due to expire, after three years, at the end of June, and the federal government has suspended routine visa services and premium processing for H-1B renewals due to the coronavirus outbreak. That leaves thousands of foreign medical professionals in immigration limbo.

It’s an added weight to bear, said Vakkalanka, and others in the same boat, as they fight the pandemic.

“This feeling that you might be deported in the next three months should not be constantly haunting you, day in and day out,” he said. “It’s one more thing to worry about.”

Pour ceux qui ont des familles aux États-Unis, la peur est encore plus profonde. Lorsqu'un médecin étranger titulaire d'un visa de non-immigrant décède aux États-Unis, les membres de sa famille dépendants perdent immédiatement leur statut de visa et risquent d'être expulsés, s'inquiètent-ils.

“God forbid an extreme scenario.… Imagine our family,” said Rahmath Begum, an Indian doctor in Mississippi and mother of three. “We have been here for almost 15 years.”

Sumit Bhargava, a 32-year-old pediatric critical-care fellow working within Stanford University’s healthcare system, is anxious too. Also from India, Bhargava has been working in the U.S. since 2014 on a J-1 non-immigrant visa and has been accepted to a full-time position in Alabama. With visa processing services scaled back, the H-1B visa he needs for the new job is in jeopardy.

“There is a real possibility that once I’m done with this process, not only [may I not] have a job; I may be an illegal immigrant in a country where I’m sweating it out every day in the hospital,” he said.

At week’s end, there were already 28 COVID-19 cases in the Stanford hospital system, officials said, amid concerns there wasn’t enough protective equipment for doctors.

“Nobody is fearful in the hospital of taking care of people. What people are fearful of is that we may expose ourselves to the risk if there aren’t ways for us to protect ourselves,” he said. “Anytime a patient has any respiratory illness, all of those patients end up coming to the ICU…. There isn’t enough personal protective equipment.… Within the next couple of weeks we’re expected to run out.”

Amid the high stakes, Bhargava wishes he didn’t feel the additional pressure of visa uncertainty.

“The last thing I want to think about is prioritizing my visa status when there’s so much else to be done,” he said. “It’s actually terrifying when I think about the fact that I’ve invested so many years of my life here…. [I could] have no job security, no security of where we live.”

Dans l'Indiana, un autre médecin indien cherchant à passer d'un J-1 à un H-1B a déclaré qu'il traitait 14 patients infectés.

“Trump says that this is a war. And we are fighting a war. We are like soldiers,” said the physician, who asked to remain anonymous for fears over his visa status. “While we’re fighting on the front lines … you really want to give 100%, and all your thoughts should be on one thing. The [visa] stress can be difficult.”

Besides foreign doctors already on American soil, more than 4,000 incoming international medical graduates who last month matched with U.S. residency programs remain in limbo. They’re in need of J-1 visas before July, but with so many American consular services shut down globally, it’s a race against time.

“There’s generally a lot of anxiety in the air about what’s going to happen, because so much of it is really out or our control right now,” said Basim Ali, a 24-year-old Pakistani who matched with a medical residency program in Texas.

Ali a dit qu'il est en contact avec des centaines d'autres stagiaires médicaux à travers le monde qui ont été acceptés dans des programmes américains et estime que chacun a investi 10,000 15,000 à XNUMX XNUMX $ dans le processus.

“People draw loans sometimes to make sure they don’t fall short,” he said. “My investment in this process is now several years old.”

Les experts ont déclaré que le besoin de professionnels de la santé étrangers était essentiel pour remédier à la crise médicale aux États-Unis.

“If we have any decrease in the number of healthcare providers, let alone [the fact that we’re] needing more, then we’re at risk of not being able to treat people,” said William Pinsky, president and chief executive of the Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates.

Pinsky a déclaré qu'il était optimiste que le problème soit réglé, après des semaines de dialogue conduisant à une mise à jour du Département d'État, il considère comme un engagement à traiter les visas J-1 et H-1B pour les médecins.

Un porte-parole des services de la citoyenneté et de l'immigration des États-Unis a déclaré que les pétitionnaires peuvent soumettre une demande pour accélérer leur traitement s'ils répondent aux critères.

But many medical workers remain unclear about their status, and Memphis-based immigration lawyer Greg Siskind contended that “it’s still a big mess.”

“They put out basically one or two sentences cryptically to say that they’re going to treat doctors differently than everybody else, but the communication was poor, and it’s still not entirely clear exactly what they meant.”

Siskind believes the process could be far simpler, pointing to a State Department decision recently to waive in-person interviews for H-2 temporary work visas, which he noted is the category used for workers in President Trump’s hotels.

“Why do they even have to be doing in-person interviews at all [for doctors]?” he asked. “You mean to tell me that hotel workers are important enough that you can waive the interview process, but doctors are not?”

Pour les avocats de l'immigration comme Siskind, le système était défectueux avant la pandémie de coronavirus. Des milliers de médecins indiens sous H-1B attendent actuellement 20 ans pour recevoir des cartes vertes convoitées, a-t-il déclaré.

“We just want to maximize the number of colors that are in the healthcare system right now,” he said. “And as far as we know, there’s not a single person at any of these [government] agencies where it’s their job right now to figure this out.”

Cet article a été publié par le Los Angeles Times.

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