Louisiana Adds Forensic Pathology to J-1 Visa Waivers

NEW ORLEANS – From Adams and Reese:

Adams and Reese Business Immigration Attorney Mary Kate Fernandez worked with the Louisiana Department of Health and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to get forensic pathology added to the state’s list of J-1 Visa waiver specialties.

Louisiana becomes just the fifth state since the inception of the program to recognize forensic pathology as a J-1 waiver specialty.

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“There is a bottleneck in employing recent international medical graduates, and one physician specialty significantly impacted is that of forensic pathologists,” Fernandez said. “In adding forensic pathology to the J-1 Visa Waivers, Louisiana can close that labor gap. The waiver addition has already filled a critical need for autopsy review in Jefferson Parish.”

Trinidad native Dr. Randall Bissessar joined the Jefferson Parish Coroner’s Office as a forensic pathologist, beginning in May. Fernandez assisted the coroner’s office in the hiring process.

Dr. Bissessar trained in the U.S. on a J-1 Visa, which is typical of a foreign medical student, but that Visa requires graduates to return to their country of residency for a minimum of two years, before they can practice in the U.S. Dr. Bissessar only returned to Trinidad for less than a year.

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“If an employer wishes to hire a physician before those two years, that’s where J-1 Visa Waivers come into play,” said Fernandez. “It’s a process that healthcare executives are seeking assistance in because there is a doctor shortage, and international medical graduates can fill those voids.”

Following Fernandez’s work to get forensic pathology added as a J-1 Visa Waiver specialty in Louisiana, Dr. Bissessar was approved for a Conrad 30 J-1 Visa waiver and H-1B Visa petition for a foreign medical graduate to work in a medically underserved area as a forensic pathologist.

“Forensic pathologists are specialized, so when you find a worthy candidate, it was critical for the Parish to quickly consult an immigration attorney such as Mary Kate to petition the necessary offices,” said Dr. Gerry Cvitanovich, Coroner, Jefferson Parish. “Adding forensic pathology as a specialty in Louisiana will provide the parish an important hiring option to continue to perform autopsies and additional services optimally and efficiently in Jefferson and other parishes we assist in the state.”

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The Jefferson Parish Coroner’s Office provides services not just to Jefferson Parish, but also to 12 other parishes in Louisiana. The office previously had three full-time pathologists, but it was down to one full-time and one part-time. Louisiana has 19 forensic pathologists – equal to one death examiner for every three parishes, according to the New Orleans Advocate.

“We are seeing a trend here that mirrors the nationwide shortage of forensic pathologists,” Fernandez said. “This shortage has been exacerbated by the increase of opioid overdoses, deaths from drugs laced with fentanyl, COVID-19 pandemic-related deaths, and from a surge in homicides and suicides. There is a growing need for timely death investigations and autopsies. Anything we can do to less complicate a path towards employment is a much-needed resource and tool.” 

States vary on their list of approved specialties within the Conrad 30 Waiver Program that allows every state 30 spots for which they can issue a J-1 Visa Waiver. But there are specific practice area and geographic location requirements, and sometimes, the specialty may be difficult to add.

“Adding a specialty to a state’s list takes time and know-how, and worthy candidates will move on to an employer who knows the process” said Fernandez. “It was critical the Parish consulted an immigration attorney to petition the necessary offices. Knowledge of the requirements ensures the steps are accurately completed, whether that be adding a specialty to a state’s designated list all the way through obtainment of an employment Visa.” 

The physician has to apply for and be granted a Conrad 30 spot. Then, the employer applies to the U.S. Department of State for a recommendation of the physician for a waiver. If approved, the DOS recommends the physician for a waiver to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). If the DOS recommends the waiver, USCIS typically grants it.

Finally, once USCIS grants the J-1 Visa waiver, the petitioner can apply for an employment Visa to work in the U.S. The most appropriate Visa is typically an H-1B. In addition to the varying state guidelines, there are federal requirements, according to USCIS, such as full-time employment (40 hours per week and not less than three years) in a designated healthcare professional shortage area or at a facility which serves patients from such a designated area. 

Adams and Reese has a Business Immigration Practice Team that assists employers in understanding the various immigration hire processes, and obtaining and complying with non-immigrant work Visas, employment-based green cards, international intra-company transfers, adjustment of status, permanent residence, among other documentation and requirements.

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