End to visa shortcut may worsen nursing shortage

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While nursing home operators continue to struggle with a worsening shortage of nurses the State Department announced Thursday plans to block a shortcut that has permitted thousands of foreign nurses -- primarily from the Philippines -- to get U.S. work permits on a fast track.

According to the government's announcement, after Jan. 1, the foreign nurses will not be able to use a shortcut that allowed them to start working in U.S. healthcare facilities as quickly as 60 days after applying. Instead, they will have to wait up to three years or more for their applications to be processed.

The new policy, which is called simply a byproduct of a more efficient immigration process, could also affect doctors and other healthcare workers.

Because of a backlog caused by enhanced security measures after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, many foreign workers from the Philippines, as well as India and mainland China, were given temporary work permits while they waited for green cards. Under the new process, temporary work permits for workers from these countries will not be issued until the backlog is eliminated, which could take several years.