Appeals court clarifies rules
for permanent residency
By Julia Cheever, Bay City News Service
June 8, 2006
SAN FRANCISCO (BCN) - A federal appeals court in San Francisco
made it easier Wednesday for immigrant doctors who work in medically
underserved areas of the United States to become permanent legal
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said several regulations
enforced by the Department of Homeland Security violated a federal
law because they imposed greater restrictions on the doctors than
The law, the Nursing Relief for Disadvantaged Areas Act of 1999,
allows immigrant doctors who work in medically underserved areas
to take an accelerated path toward becoming permanent legal residents.
Underserved areas are defined as either geographic areas or population
groups experiencing a shortage of health professionals.
Among other provisions, the law allows immigrant doctors to become
permanent legal residents after working in an underserved area
for a total of five years.
A regulation originally set by the U.S. attorney general and
later enforced by the Department of Homeland Security required
that the doctors complete the five years of service within six
But a three-judge panel of the appeals court struck down that
regulation, saying that Congress had set no time limit for doctors
to reach the five-year total.
Circuit Judge Harry Pregerson wrote, "Congress clearly intended
that no limitations period should be imposed on the aggregate
medical practice requirement.''
The court also struck down a regulation that said doctors couldn't
start counting their years of service until an immigrant visa
had been approved. The approval can take several years.
The panel said Congress intended immigrant doctors to start counting
time of service as soon as they began working in an underserved
The responsibility for establishing and enforcing regulations
was given to the Department of Homeland Security after that agency
was formed and given jurisdiction over immigration matters in
The ruling was made in a lawsuit filed in federal court in Los
Angeles against the department by four doctors from Germany, Indonesia,
Tanzania and India who worked in underserved areas and sought
to become permanent residents.
One of the doctors, Stefan Schneider of Germany, worked at two
AIDS clinics in California and the others worked in Worcester,
Mass., and Richland, Wash., according to the court ruling.
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