Proposed new visa could pave the way for more immigrant nursing home workers

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More immigrant workers could be employed in the nation's nursing homes in coming years under a deal reached Friday.

Business and labor leaders have disagreed on how to increase the number of low-skilled immigrants in the U.S. workforce, which has stymied Congressional efforts to create a viable, comprehensive immigration reform bill. This hurdle was cleared on March 29, when AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, U.S. Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Tom Donohue, and Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) reached an agreement.

The new visa, called the W-Visa, would cover low-skilled workers employed by a variety of non-seasonal industries, including long-term care. The program would admit 20,000 workers beginning in 2015, and then scale up in subsequent years until reaching a cap of 200,000. The exact yearly allotment would fluctuate based on factors such as the national unemployment rate. The W-Visa workers would be paid the same wages as American workers or industry-standard wages as determined by the Labor Department, and would be able to apply for permanent residency and citizenship.

“We expect that this new program, which benefits not just business, but everyone, will promote long overdue reforms by raising the bar for existing programs,” said Trumka.

With this agreement in place, senators in the “Gang of Eight” will likely unveil their full immigration reform proposal next week, according to The Associated Press.

The American Health Care Association recently urged lawmakers to allow nursing homes to employ more immigrant workers in order for nursing home operators to fill vacancies and to save money. Fred Benjamin, chairman of the Kansas Health Care Association and COO of Medicalodges Inc., addressed a Congressional panel about this issue.

“There are many talented immigrants eager to enter the field,” Benjamin told the panel. “We see an opportunity in immigration reform.”
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