In an effort to enhance the U.S. nurse and physician workforce during the Covid-19 crisis, a bipartisan Senate bill was introduced to recapture 40,000 immigrant visas for healthcare workers and their family members.
If passed into law, the Healthcare Workforce Resilience Act, will allow the allocation of available but unused immigrant visas (or green cards) to 25,000 nurses and 15,000 physicians, and their families. The proposal does not increase current immigration numbers.
Many nurses and physicians have been unable to immigrate to the U.S. due to visa backlogs resulting from annual quotas based on country of birth. The proposed law will exempt the visas from this per-country limit to enable the issuance of immigrant visas in the order of the priority dates, which determine the would-be immigrant’s place in the visa application queue.
The bill provides for premium processing and expedited procedures by the Department of Homeland Security and State Department for the processing of the visas.
The employer of the nurse or doctor applying for an immigrant visa at a U.S. consulate is required to attest that the hiring of the nurse or doctor has not displaced and will not displace a US worker.
To qualify, an I-140 immigrant petition must be filed within 90 days of the end of the national emergency declaration for COVID-19. The Covid-19 national emergency declaration which was issued by Donald Trump on March 13, 2020 is still in effect.
Given the 90-day limit, U.S. health care providers who wish to sponsor doctors and nurses for green cards need to do so as soon as possible.
The bill is expected to undergo revisions before it can be signed into law as Congress deliberates on other measures needed to cope with the Covid-19 crisis.
Prior to the Covid-19 health crisis, the U.S. healthcare system has been encumbered by a chronic shortage of nurses and physicians that has been aggravated by an aging patient population, healthcare worker burnout and retirement. Despite efforts to develop a domestic pool of nurses and physicians, the healthcare industry inevitably looks to immigration of foreign-born workers to fill the persistent shortfall of healthcare professionals.
“Consider this: one-sixth of our health care workforce is foreign-born. Immigrant nurses and doctors play a vital role in our health care system, and their contributions are now more crucial than ever. Where would we be in this pandemic without them? It is unacceptable that thousands of doctors currently working in the U.S. on temporary visas are stuck in the green card backlog, putting their futures in jeopardy and limiting their ability to contribute to the fight against COVID-19,” said Senator Dick Durbin (D-Il), one for the four senators who sponsored the bill.
(The Philippine Daily Mirror welcomes CRISTINA GODINEZ as a regular columnist writing about “Immigration Insights.” She is an attorney practicing U.S. Immigration law in New York City for over 15 years. In addition to practicing all types of family-based immigration, she represents healthcare facilities and staffing agencies in the immigration cases of foreign healthcare workers. She is also staff attorney at a faith-based immigration legal services center where she works on humanitarian cases for low-income migrants.)