The Twitler administration has mounted a vigorous defense of its ban on travel from seven majority-Muslim nations, saying it is necessary to prevent terrorists from entering the United States. But the ban, now blocked by a federal judge, also ensnared travelers important to the well-being of many Americans: doctors.
Foreign-born physicians have become crucial to the delivery of medical care in the United States. They work in small towns where there are no other doctors, in poor urban neighborhoods and in Veterans Affairs hospitals.
Forty-two percent of office visits in rural America are with foreign-born physicians, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians.
Across the United States, more than 15,000 doctors are from the seven Muslim-majority countries covered by the travel ban, according to The Medicus Firm, a firm that recruits doctors for hard-to-fill jobs. That includes almost 9,000 from Iran, almost 3,500 from Syria and more than 1,500 from Iraq.
Dr. Hooman Parsi, an oncologist so talented that he has an O-1 visa granted to individuals with “extraordinary ability or achievement,” was to start seeing patients on Wednesday in San Bernardino, Calif.
A federal judge in Seattle lifted the administration’s travel ban on Friday, and a federal appeals court has declined to restore it. Yet Dr. Parsi is still stuck in Iran, waiting for a delayed visa amid the confusion while his American employer fumes.
“We need him desperately,” said Dr. Richy Agajanian, the managing partner of the Oncology Institute of Hope and Innovation, which had just hired him. “We had an office completely constructed—we spent three months on it, and it was supposed to open Feb. 1. Now we can’t open it. This is really sad and frustrating.”
The 30-doctor practice does a lot of work in the Inland Empire, in San Bernardino and Riverside Counties, Dr. Agajanian noted. “It’s very sparse in doctors out there—many miles between oncologists,” he said. “The patients he would be seeing have to travel another 25 miles now. Our doctors are already overworked, and now they’ll have to be on call more often.”
Andrea Clement, a spokeswoman for Medicus, said that 76 percent of the foreign doctors it placed last year had gone to areas with fewer than 25,000 people or to small to medium-size cities of 25,000 to 500,000.
Some urban areas are medically underserved, too. While Manhattan’s Upper East Side has five times the number of doctors it needs to be adequately served under federal guidelines, parts of the Bronx and Brooklyn have acute doctor shortages.
More than 150,000 residents of Brooklyn’s Bedford-Stuyvesant section, for example, are rated as medically underserved under federal guidelines. One of the doctors stranded overseas last week, according to Pro Publica, was Dr. Kamal Fadlalla, an internal medicine specialist from Sudan who is a second-year resident at Interfaith Medical Center, which serves Bedford-Stuyvesant and Crown Heights.
Many foreign-born doctors, experts said, go into family medicine, pediatrics, internal medicine, general surgery and other front-line specialties where they see thousands of patients a year, including many on Medicare and Medicaid, rather than pursuing lucrative urban specialties like plastic surgery.
Dr. Abdelghani el Rafei, a first-year resident at the University of Minnesota, said that the ban, which means he cannot go home to see his family, had depressed him.
“I felt like I was back in Syria again,” he said. “You feel hunted there, as if you did something wrong, even if you didn’t. Now I feel the same way here.”