Visa deadline extension saves border nursing homes from staffing shortages

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Nursing homes in states bordering Mexico and Canada, worried about the looming July 26 deadline for their workers to obtain a visa certificate from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, can relax. On Monday, Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge extended the deadline for a year.

Under a rule the DHS implemented last September, nurses and therapists from Canada and Mexico had until July 26, 2004, to obtain certificates proving they have qualifications comparable to those trained in the U.S. They are required to take exams and become licensed in the states in which they practice.

Most foreign nurses have passed the exams. However, because of paperwork backlogs, many had not yet received verification, and facilities prepared for severe staff shortages or even temporarily shutting down.

The deadline extension ensures that healthcare will continue in states along the Canadian and Mexican borders without disruption. It applies to workers employed in the U.S. before Sept. 2, 2003, who held a license from a U.S. jurisdiction.

The American Hospital Association estimates 13,000 to 15,000 healthcare workers may be affected by the new federal rules.