Federal lawmakers are trying again to push through immigration reform that would allow officials to recapture unused visas and reprocess them for nurses and other healthcare professionals.
The legislation was applauded by provider groups who see the visas as a measure to offset the severe workforce crisis that is particularly harsh in nursing homes.
“As we face a growing elderly population yet a shortage of healthcare workers, creating more opportunities for international nurses to immigrate to the U.S. will help strengthen our long- term care workforce and protect access to care,” said Clif Porter, senior vice president of Government Relations for the American Health Care Association/National Center for Assisted Living, in a press release issued by the Healthcare Workforce Coalition Friday. “These are dedicated nurses who want to serve America’s seniors, and they and their families should be welcomed with open arms.”
The Healthcare Workforce Resilience Act was reintroduced by Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-ND) and Dick Durbin (D-IL) and has several other senators from both parties as original co-sponsors. The bipartisan bill would allow the US Citizenship and Immigration Services to “recapture” green cards already authorized by Congress but not yet used. Up to 25,000 visas would be offered for nurses, and up to 15,000 would be offered to physicians. No new visas would be authorized under the measure.
Additionally, the bill would require employers to make clear on supporting documentation that any immigrants receiving a recaptured visa is not displacing an American worker, and applicants would need to show they meet licensing requirements and have clean background checks.
The immigration bill is supported by the North Dakota Long-Term Care Association [among others] Cramer noted.
The Healthcare Workforce Coalition said in its release that approximately 31% of registered nurses say they are considering leaving direct care positions in the next year. A study released earlier this year from David Grabowski of Harvard University, Brian McGarry of the University of Rochester, and Jonathan Gruber of MIT found that federal policies to increase the number of immigrants working in nursing homes could help providers meet current and proposed staffing requirements.
Immigrant groups already make up a “disproportionate share” of workers at nursing homes, about 1 in 5 at the direct care level, researchers said. They added that a backlog of permit processing is adding to the sector’s nationwide labor shortage.
“Skilled nursing care communities suffered workforce shortages prior to the pandemic and now it is at crisis levels,” Lori Stubbe, chief operation officer and a partner at Focused Post Acute Care Partners, said in a statement to McKnight’s Long-Term Care News Friday. The skilled nursing company has facilities in rural parts of Texas.
“It is challenging to attract and retain nurses particularly in those areas, so removing some of the administrative barriers for these visas and allowing an influx of educated and trained international nurses into the US workforce could provide much needed relief for those who care for our seniors,” Stubbe added.
In September, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services rolled out its proposed staffing mandate, which calls for facilities to provide a minimum of 3.0 hours per patient day of direct care — 0.55 hours of that by a registered nurse and 2.45 hours by a nurse aide. A press release from AHCA/NCAL applauding the Healthcare Workforce Resilience Act noted that nursing homes would have to hire an additional 100,000 caregivers to satisfy the demands of the proposal.