Black nurse caring for patient
Credit: Larry Williams & Associates/Getty Images

Immigrants looking to work in the long-term care industry would see some barriers lowered, including costs and licensing requirements, under a trio of recently introduced House bills.

The proposals were introduced Thursday by Reps. Adam Smith (D-WA) and Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA) and are designed to bring more workers into the healthcare industry amid a severe workforce shortage. 

The first measure, dubbed the Immigrants in Nursing and Allied Health Act, would create a grant program to help cover the costs of licensing, certification, training and education provided to immigrants looking to work in healthcare The program also would open eligibility for the National Health Service Corp. to non-US citizens. 

The second proposal, the International Medical Graduate Assistance Act, would incentivize states to create temporary licensing programs for internationally educated immigrants with medical degrees. The programs would allow them to practice under supervision, while they complete the necessary certification and training requirements for a US medical license. 

It would also establish guaranteed medical residency slots for international medical graduates in the established state program to practice in predominantly medically underserved communities and provide grants to help cover the costs of necessary training.

Providers attending the American Health Care Association’s Fly-in in Washington, DC, last week said they needed some way to address disparities in education and allow foreign providers to get licensed in the US more quickly if they earned degrees in another country. 

The final proposal, the Professional’s Access to Health (PATH) Workforce Integration Act, would provide training and counseling opportunities to internationally trained health professionals that are US citizens and immigrants legally residing in the country. It would also educate employers on the abilities and capacities of health professionals who have been educated overseas.

All proposals have been referred to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce. The measures were also detailed by LeadingAge in a blog post Friday.

“We must do everything we can to support healthcare workers, combat staffing shortages, and rebuild our healthcare system,” Smith said in a statement. “One way we can do that is by reducing barriers to employment for immigrants looking to enter the healthcare field.” 

Huge crisis

An AHCA staff member last week described the issue as a “huge supply crisis” and said her organization is “pushing very hard between our refugee work and trying to get partnerships there with Afghanistan coming, Ukranians that are coming and this immigration bill.”

AHCA has worked with the State and Labor departments and Citizenship and Immigration Services to encourage faster progress in addressing a backlog of applicants that grew during COVID. The citizenship agency has instituted new practices since late March and received an additional $275 million to target the backlog.

“We are starting to see with this funding, with more COVID (reopenings), that more people are getting nurses from overseas. The consulates aren’t doing just virtual work now,” Dana Ritchie, senior director of not-for-profit and constituent services said in reply to an audience question at a Fly-in session on June 6. “I’m hearing some positive news, not in all markets, but from some providers, that they are starting to get nurses.”

Monday, Ritchie told McKnight’s that “more must be done on the immigration front, as our centers rely on these individuals. AHCA/NCAL will continue to work with the relevant agencies and the Hill on the unprecedented workforce crisis the industry is experiencing.”

Providers have backed approaches that would open new pipelines and relax rules to allow for the hiring of more nurses without advanced practice designations. But even being able to bring in RNs quickly could be a game-changer as the staffing issues that once plagued the CNA lines have moved up the chain.

“We have nearly 40 leadership or director positions that are open,” Nate Schema, president and CEO of Evangelical Lutheran Good Samaritan Society, told McKnight’s Long-Term Care News last week. “When we look at 40 open key leader positions  in our organization, that’s over 20% of our key leaders. It’s having a compounding effect now.”

Good Sam has planned to bring in internationally trained nurses from several countries, including 200 RNs already under contract. But the nonprofit organization, one of the nation’s largest, can’t get them to the U.S. 

“Until we have some comprehensive immigration reform and these visas opened up, I don’t know how that changes,” he said. “We’re just seeing a trickle of those people come through. I’m extremely worried about the toll it’s going to continue to take on our leaders, specifically on our administrators and directors of nursing  if we don’t have a sustainable path forward.”