Washington, D.C. - Today, Congresswoman Elise Stefanik announced that following her advocacy the Northern Border Regional Commission (NBRC) launched its J-1 Visa Program in collaboration with New York, Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont to make quality healthcare accessible to rural America by easing the visa requirements for nondomestic physicians who trained in the U.S. if they agree to practice in underserved areas. NBRC will recommend the U.S. Department of Homeland Security waive what is known as the “two-year home-country physical presence requirement” for eligible physicians seeking to work at healthcare institutions and practices within the NBRC territory. This will help alleviate the physician workforce shortage disproportionately affecting rural America. 

“Following my advocacy, the Northern Border Regional Commission will launch its J-1 Visa Program to help provide rural and underserved areas across Upstate New York and the North Country with accessible, quality, and affordable healthcare helping to alleviate the physician shortage I have been working tirelessly to address,” said Congresswoman Elise Stefanik. “Last week, I heard directly from a NY-21 constituent in Copenhagen about how the physician shortage in her area was affecting her family’s access to healthcare, during my Medicare Telephone Town Hall. These physicians will provide critical medical services in rural areas of our states currently suffering from physician staffing shortages.”

“My thanks to the NBRC for launching this program and to Congresswoman Stefanik for her continued work to enhance access to health care in the North Country region. With her support, physicians trained in our country will find it easier to stay here and practice, and that’s great news as we continue to struggle with a chronic physician shortage,” said Michelle LeBeau, President of the Alice Hyde Medical Center and Champlain Valley Physicians Hospital. “The J-1 Visa Waiver Program is an important step in ensuring people living in some of the most rural areas of our country have access to quality health care. It aligns with our Network’s commitment to preserve and enhance health care services for the communities we serve and supports our efforts to attract and retain physicians so we can continue to deliver quality care to our patients. Everyone, regardless of where they live, should have access to quality care.” 

“Recruiting and retaining physicians in rural communities – amid a protracted national shortage – is challenging, but essential for sustainability and equitable access to care. We applaud Rep. Stefanik for her advocacy and appreciate her work with the Northern Border Regional Commission on this new J-1 Visa Program,” said Aaron Kramer, President and CEO of Adirondack Health.

“Physician recruitment has always been a challenge in St. Lawrence County; however, with the passage of the new J-1 Visa Waiver Program, our hospitals will be better positioned to enhance patient access to the critical areas of primary and mental health; which continue to be underserved. I would like to thank Congresswoman Stefanik for her commitment to ensuring high quality healthcare to the Northern Border communities,” said Donna McGregor, St. Lawrence Health Regional President.

“The Northern Border Regional Commission’s (NBRC) launch of an improved J-1 Visa Program is welcome news, and will be instrumental in providing some relief to the ongoing provider shortage challenges we all face across the North Country. Whether you are part of a community health center, hospital system, or other healthcare organization, the frustration of not being able to provide care as quickly as possible because we simply do not have the number of providers available to meet demand, impacts all of us. This may not fix the problem overnight, but it will give healthcare systems more flexibility when bringing on additional providers for primary and behavioral healthcare services,” said Ray Babowicz, Director of Communications and Strategic Partnerships at the Community Health Center of the North Country. “I have spoken to Congresswoman Stefanik and her team many times over the past couple of years on this topic, and truly appreciate the follow through on making this not just a hope, but a reality. Healthcare providers across the 21st District, the communities we serve, and most importantly the patients reaching out to us for care, will all win from the program moving forward.”

In July 2022, Congresswoman Stefanik led her colleagues in a letter specifically calling on the NBRC to implement a J-1 visa waiver program that would allow nondomestic physicians trained in the U.S. to work in health professional shortage areas or medically underserved areas within the NBRC’s area of jurisdiction. In August 2022, Congresswoman Stefanik announced that following this advocacy, the NBRC agreed to begin implementing a J-1 visa program in Fiscal Year 2023 to expand opportunities to recruit physicians to rural NY-21. In June 2023, Congresswoman Stefanik led a bipartisan bill to reauthorize the NBRC for ten years with an investment of $400M while making critical reforms to encourage economic development, enhance access to rural healthcare, and streamline bureaucratic processes within the NBRC.