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Bill Would Recapture 40,000 Green Cards for Doctors and Nurses

By Carl M. Shusterman / May 05, 2020

On May 4, 2020, a bipartisan group of Senators introduced a bill to recapture 40,000 lost green cards, and give them to much needed doctors and nurses.

The Healthcare Workforce Resilience Act would speed the ability of foreign-born healthcare workers to become lawful permanent residents of the United States and allow them to assist in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The bill would recapture unused immigrant visas for 25,000 nurses and 15,000 doctors that Congress had previously authorized and allocate them to those who can help in the fight against COVID-19. The proposal does not increase current immigration numbers.

“The growing shortage of doctors and nurses over the past decade has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 crisis,” said Senator David Perdue (R-GA). “Fortunately, there are thousands of trained health professionals who want to practice in the United States. This proposal would simply reallocate a limited number of unused visas from prior years for doctors and nurses who are qualified to help in our fight against COVID-19. This shortage is critical and needs immediate attention so that our healthcare facilities are not overwhelmed in this crisis.”

“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). “This bipartisan, targeted, and timely legislation will strengthen our health care workforce and improve health care access for Americans in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. I encourage my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to support these vital health care workers.”

Nurse Shortage

Long before anyone ever heard of COVID-19, the United States was experiencing a shortage of registered nurses. The U.S. Department of Labor has designated registered nurses as a Schedule A shortage occupation.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that we will need an additional 200,000 new RNs each year through 2026 to fill newly created positions and to replace retiring nurses, far more RNs than graduate from U.S. nursing schools.

In order to work in the U.S., foreign-born registered nurses must have state licenses, passed exams demonstrating that they are fluent in English, as well as certificates from an agency designated by the federal government that their nursing education is equivalent to that of nurses trained in the U.S.

There are over 100,000 RNs abroad who would like to immigrate to the U.S. However, since the current waiting time for a nurse to get a green card exceeds 3 years, they are forced to continue to work abroad.

Physician Shortage

There is a severe shortage of primary care doctors in the U.S. Currently, physicians meet only 55% of the national need for primary care. Given our aging population, the Association of American Medical Colleges estimates that the U.S. will see a shortage of up to nearly 122,000 physicians by 2032 as the demand for physicians continues to grow faster than supply.

The U.S. Health Resources & Services Administration estimates that over 80 million Americans live in areas where there is less than one primary care doctor for every 3,500 persons. The number of physicians needed to fill this gap exceeds 14,000.

There are thousands of foreign-born physicians who work in the U.S. on temporary visas. However, restrictive per-country quotas have kept them from getting green cards.

What the New Legislation Would Do

The Healthcare Workforce Resilience Act would do the following:

  1. Recapture unused green cards from previous years for doctors, nurses and their families;
  2. Exempt these visas from per-country caps;
  3. Require employers to attest that immigrants from overseas who receive these visas will not displace American workers;
  4. Require the DHS and the State Department to expedite the processing of recaptured visas; and
  5. Limit the filing period for recaptured visas to 90 days following the termination of the President’s COVID-19 emergency declaration.

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.