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Widespread J1 Clinical Visa Refusals In Pakistan

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Date 05/27/2017

Honorable Rex Tillerson,
Secretary of State,
State Department
2201 C-Street, N. W.
Washington, DC 20520

RE: SIGNIFICANT RISE IN THE J1 VISA REFUSALS TO PAKISTANI PHYCISIANS

Dear Mr. Secretary,

We, the undersigned, physicians and members of APPNA (Association of Pakistani Physicians of North America) would like to bring an issue of significant importance to your attention.

In the month of May 2017, there has been a significant rise in the refusal of J1 trainee visas to Pakistani physicians. These physicians have completed an exhaustive process of taking the required qualifying tests, have received ECFMG (Education Commission on Foreign Medical Graduates) certification, were interviewed and selected in US residency programs in accredited training hospitals, were issued the contracts by the hospital and had received the necessary paperwork from the ECFMG and the Pakistani Government for an Exchange Visa Program. The final step was to get a J1 visa from the US Embassy to proceed to USA for training. Traditionally the residency-training year starts on July 1st of every year.

We know of at least twenty-five such physicians who were turned down at the eleventh hour. There are probably many more. These are highly trained and educated young Pakistani professionals. They have not only attainted a high degree of education benchmark in Pakistan, but have also successfully completed the US requirements for a residency program.

The reasons given to the visa applicants, through the information received by us, were varied, but universally flawed. Reasons ranged from unsubstantiated technical reasons, to "USA does not need any more doctors", to not enough social ties for the individual to come back to Pakistan. The general denial pattern is that the physicians were previously issued five year multiple entry visitor (B-1/B-2) visas at a consular post in Pakistan. Properly using these visas, they entered The United States for the purpose of completing medical credential exams (USMLE Step 2, Clinical Skills and Step 3) and USCE (United states Clinical Experience), which is purely volunteer work. This is important as most hospitals do not give out interviews to candidates lacking USCE. The other purpose of recent travel to the United States was to attend interviews for residency training programs. Both are perfectly proper uses of the “B-1/B-2” visa. Not only have consular officers in Pakistan (Karachi especially) been denying the J-1 visas, but they have also canceled/ revoked their valid B-1/B-2 visas improperly. Reports are that none of the physicians overstayed a prior visa or improperly used the visa. However, the denials have gone viral nonetheless. 99% of the denials have been for 214(b).  It is to be noted that the J1 visa is issued specifically for the purpose of returning to the country of origin, as stated on the Statement of Need issued by the Ministry of Health, Pakistan. 

We strongly believe that all the reasons given are trivial at best and give the impression of a concerted policy to deny visas to aspiring physicians from Pakistan. We believe that the policies are not enforced with same level of strictness to physicians from countries other than Pakistan. As such they are discriminatory.

If this trend continues then it would put the professional future of these physicians at risk. It will deny Pakistan of the professionally trained physicians who have a commitment to go back and help the country in the time of need. This also strains the healthcare in the United States, as it creates a crisis situation for the affected US hospitals and the population they serve. The hospitals have to find a new trainee physician on urgent basis, and if they are unable to find one, may have to put added burden on the existing training staff. Most importantly it will put the care of patients at these hospitals in serious jeopardy. These hospitals have selected these Pakistani physicians for the training program for the sole reason that they were unable to get local physicians to fill in these residency slots. It will also deter the future training program directors to select physicians from Pakistan as they may again face similar denials of visas.

Pakistan's friendship to the USA in these difficult times is well known to you. Pakistan has been the frontline country in alliance with the USA, whether it was to defeat the Soviet aggression in Afghanistan or the present day war on terrorism. This is despite the big price Pakistan has paid economically and politically in standing up to these challenges. We, the Pakistani Americans community have suffered immensely from the policies and effects of post 9/11, targeting immigrant groups. This current tightening of the visa process will further put credence to the perception in Pakistani public that the US policies are not fair to Pakistan, let alone be favorable.

Pakistani American physicians work very hard to uplift the profile of US in Pakistan. We feel that the deserving Pakistanis must benefit from the American training facilities, and become functional ambassadors for US-Pakistan relationship. It is our opinion that irritants such as unusually high rejection rate for trainee physicians at the US embassy in Islamabad and Karachi would set these efforts back and is likely to create more foes than friends for us. While it is the US's privilege to offer any kind of visa to anyone, there must be justifiable and comparable grounds to reject visa applicant.

We request you to kindly take full and personal interest into identifying the reasons behind this obvious policy change, and help resolve this gross mistake. We urge you to take immediate personal interest and impress on the US Embassy in Pakistan to deal with these visa applicants with due fairness and professionalism. We request that those who were denied the visas should be issued the required visas without further delay, so they may join their residency training in time.


Sincerely,

Association of Pakistani Physicians of North America (APPNA), in consultation with Young Physicians Committee (YPC).



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