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USCIS Eases H-1B Requirements for Physicians With J-1 Waivers in Response to COVID-19

On May 11, 2020, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) issued a policy update in response to the COVID-19 pandemic that provides H-1B physicians holding J-1 foreign medical graduate waivers some limited flexibility in readjusting their hours and placement sites. This policy does not alter the employer’s H-1B obligations for any changes that occur to the terms and conditions of employment.

The revised policy provides that certain changes to H-1B physicians’ contractual obligations will not reimpose the two-year home residence obligation or negatively affect the eligibility of these physicians for future immigration benefits, such as extensions of nonimmigrant status or applications for green cards. The scope of this policy update is limited, and applies only to H-1B physicians who have received J-1 waivers based on their clinical medical practice. In addition, it is temporary, with duration specifically tied to the national emergency declared in response to the COVID-19 crisis.

The revised policy relaxes requirements for this limited class of physicians in two specific areas:

  1. Regarding the need to maintain full-time employment, a physician can reduce hours from full-time employment without affecting the fulfillment of contractual requirements if the reason for the reduction is “quarantine, illness, travel restrictions, or other consequences of the pandemic.” Any reduction in hours occurring under the above conditions is allowed dating back to January 27, 2020, without prejudice to the physician.
  2. Telehealth services are specifically permitted, even if the practice worksite might have changed from what was in the physician’s contract, as of May 11, 2020. These services are permitted under the following conditions:
    • Services are performed through the H-1B sponsor, not on an independent basis
    • Services are provided only to patients living within the same state as the employer
    • The employer offers U.S. physicians equal opportunity to telework from a different worksite location

As it currently stands, the revised policy “does not affect a petitioning employer’s responsibilities under the statutes and regulations relating to H-1B nonimmigrants.” This includes obligations related to wages, notice, and the filing of amended petitions in specific circumstances when changes are made to the terms and conditions of an H-1B nonimmigrant’s employment. At this stage, compliance obligations are still in effect as they would be for any other H-1B employee.

© 2021, Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart, P.C., All Rights Reserved.National Law Review, Volume X, Number 135
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About this Author

Steven Williams, Ogletree Deakins, Denver, Business Immigration Visa Lawyer, high-tech fields Attorney
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Steven’s broad-ranging experience with immigration practice stems from his work within institutions of higher education and the federal government prior to joining Ogletree Deakins. His practice focuses on business immigration matters, representing companies and individuals in the academic, medical and high-tech fields. 

Mr. Williams manages green card processes for higher education institutions, large and small companies, and individuals for a variety of categories, including individuals of extraordinary ability, outstanding professors and...

303-764-6810
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Lee Depret-Bixio joined Ogletree Deakins in 2003 and she practices exclusively in the area of business immigration law.  She assists U.S. and foreign companies in obtaining and maintaining employment-based nonimmigrant and immigrant visas for key employees and assists clients with state and federal employment verification (I-9) compliance and enforcement issues. Having lived and worked in France for several years, Ms. Depret-Bixio is fluent in French.

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Ms. Depret-Bixio represents employers of all sizes and...

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