A major provider organization and its nursing arm are backing a bill that would nearly double the number of employment visas granted annually and ensure access to “critical healthcare workers.”

The Backlog Elimination, Legal Immigration, and Employment Visa Enhancement Act would push the number of employment-based visas to 270,000 and carve healthcare workers — those in roles for which there are designated shortages — from that limit.

The American Hospital Association and its American Organization for Nursing Leadership are strongly in favor of it.

“America’s hospitals and health systems partially rely on immigrant nurses from a number of countries as a small, but absolutely necessary, part of the healthcare labor market,” the organizations wrote to Sen. Rand Paul, R-KY, the bill’s sponsor. “These nurses are required to meet rigid standards of equivalent education, English fluency and state licensure, and must have clean disciplinary records.”

The American Health Care Association said it had “not yet” submitted a letter in support of the Senate bill, but a spokeswoman said the organization supports policies “that expand the immigration caps to increase workers and support the future of the long-term care profession.”

LeadingAge is also typically supportive of policies that would broaden the applicant pool for long-term care providers.

“The United States desperately needs more workers in older adult services, from nurses and geriatricians to therapists and front-line caregivers,” a spokesperson told McKnight’s Monday. “Shortages for caregivers to meet the needs of older adults exist around the country, and particularly in rural areas. Legislation that aims to address this critical need and to increase the number of qualified health care workers merits attention.”

LeadingAge has previously pitched foreign-born workers as one possible solution to long-term care’s staffing shortage.

In its statement of support, the AHA noted that foreign-trained nurses do not displace American workers and make up less than 10% of the 160,000 new nurses licensed here each year. A previous study put the proportion of foreign-born skilled nursing nurses at about 5%.

But immigrants accounted for 25.7% of the workforce in the “nonformal” long-term care sector, including senior living, in 2017, according to a study published last month in Health Affairs.

The AHA also noted there are more nursing openings than there are U.S. nursing school graduates annually.

The House, meanwhile, has approved a separate measure that would remove limits on visas awarded to residents of particular countries, which could increase access to workers from India and China. While the Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act bill passed July 10 on a vote of 365-65, Bloomberg News reported that its future remains uncertain as several key senators are opposed to it.

The bill would eliminate per-country caps on employment green cards and more than double the limit on family-based visas to 15%.