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New York City doctor denied green card even while treating coronavirus patients

ER doctor shares lessons from treating COVID
ER doctor shares what he learned volunteering at NY hospital during pandemic 06:33

A New York City doctor says her green card application was denied even as she fights on the front lines against the coronavirus. Dr. Julia Iafrate, who has been living in the U.S. since 2008 after coming from Canada, told CBS News on Thursday that she would rather just concentrate on helping those in need right now.

Iafrate is an assistant professor at Columbia University Medical Center. While she specializes in sports medicine and musculoskeletal rehabilitation, as the pandemic hit New York City her hospital system asked for volunteers — and she stepped up. 

But even as she dedicated herself to saving lives during a crisis that has so far killed more than 73,000 people across the country, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) rejected her petition last week.

"I'm trying to volunteer my time and be helpful to my hospital system and be helpful to the citizens of New York City, which is the city I've called home for almost three years," Iafrate told CBS News. "And to be dealing with this, is just another layer of stress that's just honestly, unfortunately, unnecessary, but it's just really taking away from my ability to kind of focus on my patients which for me comes first." 

Iafrate first made her plight known on social media after she posted a photo of herself with a message that said: "I am an immigrant and a doctor fighting Covid19 on the frontlines." 

View this post on Instagram

I deserve to be here. . . I recently received notice in the mail that my application for a green card has been denied. FYI, I have lived in the USA for 13 years. I completed all of my medical training here. I did my residency at the prestigious Mayo Clinic and my sports medicine fellowship at the University of Iowa. Straight out of training I was offered a job at Columbia University Medical Center. I’ve been here almost 3 years. Once the Covid pandemic here in NYC began I immediately volunteered to move to the frontlines of my hospital because I am #nypstrong and I believe in using your gifts the best possible way you can. And I have been waiting for a green card. Patiently. But that ended 2 days ago when I received a letter from the #uscis stating my petition had been denied. Apparently I hadn’t proven my worth to them .... . I have 30 days to appeal, and believe me, I will. But I just have to ask them: . . If not me, then whom? #whoisgoodenough #doctorsofinstagram #medicaldoctor #immigrantsmakeamericagreat #immigration #frontlineworkers #healthcareworkers #healthcareheroes #doctorsareheroes #pleaseshare #helpme #istayedatworkforyouyoustayathomeforus #nyc #nycdoctor #medicine

A post shared by Dr. J Iafrate, DO CAQSM FAAPMR (@columbiadancemedicine) on

She had been working on application for EB2 visa — an employment-based green card for those with "advanced degrees or exceptional ability" — since last year. In December, she received a request for further evidence to clarify her merit for a national interest waiver as part of her petition, which she submitted in March 23. 

"Within a month after that, I got a denial," she said. "That request of evidence for further evidence was 200 pages long. That's a lot of paperwork to magically be able to go through in a month, in my opinion. But I don't know how the USCIS is even functioning right now because they had to close down. I don't know if it just means I slipped through the cracks or just an unfortunate situation with the immigration ban." 

Dr. Julia Iafrate has been on the front lines against the coronavirus pandemic.  Dr. Julia Iafrate/Instagram

Last month, President Trump announced he was temporarily suspending the processing of certain visas for foreigners seeking to immigrate to the U.S. amid the pandemic. A USCIS spokesperson told CBS News in a statement that the agency "does not comment on the adjudication decisions related to individual cases."

"USCIS evaluates each petition, application and request on a case-by-case basis to determine if they meet all standards required under applicable laws, regulations, and policies. Agency adjudicators may request further evidence and issue subsequent denials when the petitioner provides insufficient evidence to establish eligibility based on the preponderance of the evidence standard.  It is incumbent upon the applicant — not the government — to show that the prospective beneficiary meets the requirements for eligibility under the law," the statement said. 

However, Iafrate gave her followers an update on Wednesday night, saying her application is now under review by a supervisor at the agency. While she awaits a final decision on the review, she vows to follow her life's calling — helping people. 

"When this virus hit New York, it was quite honestly all hands on deck... I said I would step to the frontlines to do my part for this city and for this country because that is why I became a doctor in the first place, was to take care of other people," she said.

"When I'm working in the OR, that mask on for 12 hours straight, when I'm doing whatever I can to volunteer my services... all I'm thinking about let's get these people better the best we can, let's get them the best treatment that we can and let's work as a team," she added. 

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