An Immigration Solution For Improving Rural Healthcare

32 Pages Posted: 23 Aug 2022

See all articles by Kit Johnson

Kit Johnson

University of Oklahoma - College of Law

Date Written: ,


If you are one of the more than 249 million people who live in urban areas of the United States, more than 80% of the U.S. population, you’ve likely never thought much about your physical proximity to a doctor. Primary care physicians and medical specialists abound in urban America. But if you are among the more than 59 million people who live in rural areas of the country, you may well know the struggle of finding primary care, a specialist, or a dentist. That is because there is a worrying shortage of medical professionals in rural America.

There is a dearth of legal scholarship on the role immigration does and could play in ameliorating the problem of lack of access to medical care in rural areas. Legal academics have apparently not previously engaged with the issue of noncitizen medical professionals—whether in rural areas or more broadly— though practicing immigration attorneys and entities representing interested groups have done so. All things considered, it is a surprising gap in the literature given how desperately the United States needs to bolster its ranks of healthcare workers and how many politicians have looked to migration to solve the deficit.

Importantly, noncitizen medical professionals offer particular promise as a solution to the lack of access to care in rural areas. Healthcare providers who are immigrants, by their very nature as new arrivals to the country, tend to lack established ties to other areas within the United States, making them more likely to stay indefinitely in rural communities—even after an agreed-upon term of service has expired.

This Article begins by describing the shortage of direct healthcare workers in rural areas of the United States. Next, it examines the most promising solution for increasing the number of rural healthcare providers: immigration. It considers a range of immigration laws—enacted, improvable, and imagined— designed to bring noncitizen healthcare workers to rural America. Finally, this Article evaluates and suggests ways of overcoming barriers to healthcare’s immigration solution, such as delayed processing of immigration petitions and intermittent halting of immigration, which can, if not addressed, prompt potential noncitizen healthcare workers to pursue opportunities in other countries.

Keywords: law, medicine, rural, doctors, nurses, immigration, migration, visas, waivers, nonimmigrant, immigrant

JEL Classification: I1, I14, I18, J61, K1, K37

Suggested Citation

Johnson, Kit, An Immigration Solution For Improving Rural Healthcare (,). 124 West Virginia Law Review, 741 (2022), Available at SSRN:

Kit Johnson (Contact Author)

University of Oklahoma - College of Law ( email )

300 Timberdell Road
Norman, OK 73019
United States


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