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Immigration Law Clogs Doc License Renewal

November 14, 2012
Written by: , Filed in: Practice Management
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In Georgia, about 1,900 doctors, nurses, and other medical practitioners have at least temporarily lost their licenses to practice because state offices can’t handle a deluge of paperwork required by a new state immigration law.

The law, which took effect last year, requires everyone to prove citizenship or legal residency to renew professional licenses. At the same time, budget cuts have reduced staffing in some state offices. One is the secretary of state’s office, which handles licenses for nurses, pharmacists, and veterinarians. It has been forced to chop staff by 40 percent.

Renewals used to be routine. Now, the reduced staff has to deal with passports, birth certificates, notarized affidavits, and other additional documents. Kelly Farr, Georgia’s deputy secretary of state, told the NPR affiliate in Atlanta that the bottleneck has caused the licenses of 600 nurses to lapse:

There’s nothing more frustrating than getting that call from the desperate nurse, knowing that she’s being slowed down because we literally don’t have enough people to click the ‘approve’ button.

The Georgia Composite Medical Board licenses physicians, physician assistants, respiratory care professionals, perfusionists, acupuncturists, orthotists, prosthetists, and auricular detoxification specialists. According to the NPR story (reported in partnership with Kaiser Health News), the board’s executive director, LaSharn Hughes, estimated that 1,300 of its licensees have had their licenses lapse.

Some haven’t submitted newly required paperwork. Others have, but their applications haven’t yet been processed.

Donald Palmisano Jr., executive director of the Medical Association of Georgia, said his organization didn’t know of any physicians who were undocumented immigrants. State officials said the new documentation requirements haven’t uncovered any.

But the state might not know even if there were. The law requires that medical practitioners submit passports, birth certificates, and other documents to prove citizenship or legal residence. But it doesn’t require state agencies to check those papers for authenticity. “We really don’t have a way to do that,” said Lisa Durden of the secretary of state’s office.

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