Over the past three weeks, ECFMG|FAIMER staff have been in daily communication with officials at the U.S. Department of State (DOS) to communicate specific concerns related to COVID-19 and foreign national physicians participating in, or seeking to participate in, U.S. residency and fellowship training programs. These communications directly resulted in the following developments:
- Working in partnership with the National Resident Matching Program® (NRMP®) in response to DOS’ temporary suspension of routine visa processing around the world, including the J-1 and H-1B, we provided information to DOS about the number of foreign national physicians who matched to U.S. training programs and the country of citizenship for those who matched. As a result, DOS instructed consular posts around the world to resume visa processing for medical professionals.
- Following the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education’s (ACGME’s) posting of its Response to Pandemic Crisis, ECFMG|FAIMER asked that DOS confirm that J-1 physicians are permitted to engage in any/all clinical assignments and training activities permissible under the new ACGME guidelines. DOS provided confirmation.
- DOS also confirmed that it would “push a two-month extension to program end dates in the government database [SEVIS] on active records with a program end date between April 1-May 31, 2020 in order to provide exchange visitors the opportunity to complete either their educational or training programs, or continue to finalize travel plans to return home.” DOS further indicated that it will continue to review this issue and will make the same provisions for those J-1 physicians whose programs end in June and July, if necessary.
- We sought and received authorization from DOS to begin accepting electronic Statements of Need (SONs) from home country governments. The SON is a regulatory requirement for all J-1 physicians and, previously, only original letters signed and sealed from the home country’s Ministry of Health were permitted per DOS regulation.
We have been sending direct communications to representatives at training institutions and to currently sponsored exchange visitor physicians, as developments warrant. We have made a number of updates to the ECFMG website and continue to maintain an active presence on Twitter @ECFMG_J1. We’ve also conducted two webinars for teaching hospital personnel and members of the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) Group on Resident Affairs (GRA) to answer COVID-19 related questions. The first two webinars attracted hundreds of attendees.
For more information on the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on ECFMG|FAIMER programs and what we are doing in response, please visit our COVID-19 (Coronavirus) web page.