Travel Ban Ruling Disappoints Medical Community

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June that President Donald Trump’s immigration restrictions were a lawful use of executive power, ending a legal battle that began in 2017. In addition to directly restricting visas for citizens of seven countries, five of which are predominantly Muslim, many in the medical community see the ban as having far-reaching consequences on the U.S. health-care system.

Leaders from other medical organizations also warned that the so-called “travel ban” exacerbates the looming physician shortage and hinders collaboration among researchers and clinicians.

“We are seeing a chilling effect from the travel ban not just in the Muslim countries but a number of other countries where people used to travel to the United States, not only to study and practice medicine but also other math and science careers,” said Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) Chief Health Care Officer Janis Orlowski, MD. “The intolerance to immigrants has raised concerns for many people who would normally come to the United States and study.”

The American Society of Hematology (ASH) has consistently opposed this policy, and previously joined with the AAMC and 33 other health-care organizations in filing an amicus brief urging the Supreme Court to oppose the order. ASH President Alexis A. Thompson, MD, released a statement on the decision. “Yesterday’s ruling by the Supreme Court is disappointing,” Dr. Thompson said. “Every year, talented medical professionals come to the United States to learn, collaborate, and advance the fields of science, health, and medicine. ASH recognizes the contributions of all scientists and caregivers, regardless of national origin, and will work with lawmakers on Capitol Hill to find legislative solutions that keep our borders strong while ensuring the United States attracts the strongest possible biomedical research workforce from around the globe.”

Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates CEO William W. Pinsky, MD, also expressed his frustration with the ruling, noting that the restrictions were already impeding the exchange of ideas in medicine. “We don’t want to inadvertently keep out individuals that can help us,” he said.

In its current form, the travel restrictions apply to Iran, Libya, North Korea, Somalia, Syria, Venezuela, and Yemen. Dr. Pinsky spoke of the possibility that young or aspiring doctors might not wish to travel to a nation with these restrictions in place, even if they themselves are not from countries currently included in the ban.

Sources: Medscape, July 2, 2018; ASH press release, June 27, 2018.