Why immigrant physicians struggle to bring their aging parents to the U.S.

In the United States (U.S.), immigrating physicians typically fall into three categories: those working temporarily on nonimmigrant visas, those permanently residing on immigrant visas, and those who have become U.S. citizens through naturalization.

While immigrating physicians can easily move from their home countries to the U.S., they often encounter challenges when considering bringing their aging dependent parents with them. The U.S. offers temporary nonimmigrant pathways for parents of immigrating physicians who have not yet become U.S. citizens through naturalization. However, dependent parents can only immigrate to live permanently in the U.S. after their children have become U.S. citizens through naturalization. Therefore, it is important to assess, either through personal experiences or systematic surveys, how many immigrant physicians who have become U.S. citizens are actually able to bring their parents to the U.S.

Immigrant physicians may have noticed that very few, if any, of their peers have successfully brought their aging dependent parents to the U.S. This situation resembles the one where aging parents do not migrate with their adult children when they move from traditional rural societies with extended households to modern urban societies with nuclear households within their home countries.

The paperwork required for immigrating parents to the U.S. may seem like a significant obstacle for immigrant physicians, but it is not the only one. Factors such as evolving generational gaps in values, enduring cultural differences across continents, rising health care and living costs in later life stages, the upheaval of leaving deeply rooted ties for an uncertain future, complex financial management associated with a multinational presence, and various personal reasons may also play a role if immigrant physicians’ communities choose to explore these aspects in systematic surveys.

In essence, the question arises: if even immigrant physicians, representing the top ~1 percent, find it challenging to bring their parents to the U.S., it is likely even more daunting for non-physician immigrants, representing the bottom ~99 percent. This challenge persists unless leaving aging dependent parents behind in their home countries poses significant safety concerns, making it essential, and perhaps even urgent, for U.S. immigrants to bring their aging dependent parents.

Ultimately, despite the existing U.S. immigration system allowing noncitizen family members to temporarily stay or permanently relocate based on their relationships with U.S. immigrants, numerous unique barriers must be overcome by immigrant physicians if they decide to bring their aging dependent parents to the U.S. While societal systems for supporting aging populations living independently are becoming more viable worldwide, the traditional support of extended households and the immediate presence of close relatives remain invaluable for the well-being of families, whether they are citizens or noncitizen immigrants.

Deepak Gupta is an anesthesiologist. Sarwan Kumar is an internal medicine physician.

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