SD Rules Review Committee approves changes in J-1 visa waiver program

The South Dakota Rules Review Committee met Sept. 17 to review eight rules, including a proposed change in the J-1 visa waiver program for physicians.

The committee recommended revisiting the fee schedule for J-1 visa waivers for physicians and that the employment contract between facility and physician meets the federal requirements for immigration. Avera and Sanford representatives for the J-1 visa waiver program presented testimony in support of the program and rules. The message conveyed was that this program provides needed medical specialties in the state and primary care to the rural areas. The Department of Health (DOH) classified more than two-thirds of South Dakota’s 66 counties as medically underserved either geographically or by income in July.

DOH has 30 visa slots but only 13 physicians are in the program because there aren’t enough applicants to fill the slots. The committee members’ focus was on the number of physicians remaining in SD after completing the waiver program. There was also discussion as to what factors contribute to a physician’s decision to remain in the state or not.

Access to specialties and increasing physicians in rural areas will continue to be a topic for the legislature regarding funding for different programs that are used to support physician recruitment and retention in the state.

The committee approved the J-1 rule process with a 5-0 vote in favor.