An immigrant nursing home worker helps a resident
Credit: Juanmonino/Getty Images Plus

The Department of Labor told long-care providers that it cannot expedite the prevailing wage determination process for foreign-born registered nurses after they called on the agency to streamline the system as a way to ease the ongoing workforce crisis.

The agency denied the request in a letter last week from Brian Pasternak, administrator of the agency’s Office of Foreign Labor Certification. The letter comes after a coalition of providers reached out on the matter in early April. The group included the American Health Care Association, LeadingAge, the National Association for the Support of Long Term Care, and AMDA-The Society for Post-Acute and Long-Term Care Medicine.

The prevailing wage rate is the average wage paid to similarly employed workers in a specific occupation in an area of intended employment. Employers find the wage rate in their area by submitting a request to the DOL’s wage center or other legitimate sources of information, like the Online Wage Library. 

Physical therapists and RNs are “Schedule A” occupations — meaning there aren’t a sufficient number of U.S. workers who are able, willing, qualified and available to fill them. Employers who want to hire a person for these jobs aren’t required to conduct a test of the labor market or apply for a permanent labor certification with the DOL. 

They instead must apply for “Schedule A” designation by submitting an application for permanent labor certification. Providers had argued, however, that there should be a more streamlined process for wage determinations for the group. 

Pasternak explained that the OFLC issued 170,425 prevailing wage determinations for permanent labor certifications in fiscal 2021. Of those, 5,132 were issued for registered nurses, which ranked fourth in most commonly-issued prevailing wage determinations for that year. More than 1,180 determinations were issued for physical therapists. 

“OFLC processes all applications as expeditiously as possible; however, as a matter of long-standing policy, OFLC does not engage in any preferential expedited processing of particular applications based on the individual circumstances of an employer or foreign worker beneficiary,” Pasternak wrote. He added that the agency received 12.6% more requests in 2021 than it did in the previous fiscal year, and fiscal 2022 has had similar demand. 

“OFLC understands the importance to employers of receiving consistent, timely prevailing wage determinations,” he said. “As [the National Prevailing Wage Center] continues to see significant growth in the submission of prevailing wage requests across all occupations, we continue to focus on processing prevailing wage requests as expeditiously as possible while simultaneously issuing quality decisions.” 

Providers had cited the occupancy shortage among RNs as to why a quicker process was needed. They added that the prevailing wage determination process was the “one bottleneck” that delayed employers in filing immigration petitions for RNs. 

Pasternak also said the department is investing in additional staff to address the increase in demand for prevailing wage determinations. 

“We will continue working collaboratively with our partners in an ongoing effort to ensure efficient, timely processing of all prevailing wage determinations,” he concluded.