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Things may be looking up for Indian medical students in the US . The House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, Border Security and Claims reauthorised a programme to allow foreign nationals who complete medical school in the United States to stay in the country if they agree to work as physicians in rural and underserved areas.

The Bill, HR 4453, Access to Rural Physicians Improvement Act of 2004, would let foreign physicians to obtain a three-year waiver after their J-1 visa has expired without first returning to their country.

It allows the physician to obtain an H-1B visa , even if the H-1B visa cap has been met. The Bill was introduced by Representative Jerry Moran in late May. It has now been referred back to the House Committee on Judiciary.

This is another in a series of similar Bills in the US Congress . Senator Kent Conrad introduced a Bill to improve access to physicians in medically underserved areas (S 2302), while in the House of Representatives, Representative Jerry Moran has introduced a similar Bill (HR 4156) "to improve access to physicians in medically underserved areas".

The Bills have proposed expanding the visa waiver programme. Under the existing visa waiver programme, foreign physicians can avoid returning to their home countries after completing their course of study by working in areas where medical help is inadequate.

However, the number of such waivers are few. The proposed legislation would increase the numbers keeping in mind the acute shortage of doctors. A report by the Council on Graduate Medical education found that problems of access to medical care persist in rural and inner-city areas despite large increases in the number of physicians in the US.

Factors to this scarcity are problems of access, including economic and social circumstances of rural and inner-city areas as well as the shortage of minority and generalist physicians.

The report concludes that "minority physicians and physicians in the three primary care specialties (family practice, general internal medicine, and general pediatrics) are more likely to serve inner-city populations".

It is these areas that could attract foreign physicians as well. In this context, the Moran Bill seeks to ensure that areas presently suffering from lack of general physicians do not reach a crisis stage.

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