Visa Changes: A Shot in the Arm for Nurse Staffing

May 19, 2008
This article is part of a series called News & Trends.

Nursing shortage? Yes, we’ve all heard of it, and most people would agree that a properly staffed hospital is a basic human necessity, not a luxury.

And if you’ve been hospitalized recently, or even had to wait in a doctor’s room lately, you’re probably aware that even the best nurses are over-worked and under-paid.

So no matter what side of the immigration debate you’re on, is there really a legitimate argument left over why we’re blocking the efforts of highly motivated nursing students to stay in our country and aid the sick, tired, and needy?

Category Three Hurricane

Workforce analyst Peter Buerhaus, a Vanderbilt University professor, says new data points to a gathering storm that will be “like a Category Three hurricane, but one that hits the entire nation.”

During a May 6 press conference at the National Press Club in Washington, DC, he predicted that the current nursing shortage, which began in 1998, could hit 500,000 by 2025.

“A shortage that size could incapacitate the healthcare system,” Buerhaus said.

Green Card Caps

Retrogression has significantly impacted the hiring practices of organizations across many industries and the healthcare field is no exception.

Agnes Rudinsky, an immigration attorney for VisaNow, says many foreign graduates of U.S. nursing programs are unable to work following the expiration of their Optional Practical Training (OPT) as they wait to move through the backlog of green card applications.

“Based on the current processing time, they must wait two to three years for their green card cases to be approved,” says Rudinsky.

“While their green card cases are pending, and with the H-1B work visa cap reached in record time again this year, they often are not able to secure any nonimmigrant visas to legally work in the U.S. while they wait for their green card applications to be approved.”

Emergency Nursing Supply Relief

VisaNow explains that the Emergency Nursing Supply Relief Act bill introduced to the House aims to address the challenges many hospitals are facing to fully staff their organizations with registered nurses and physical therapists.

“The bill will take nurses out of the green card caps until 2011, with a limit of 20,000 principle applicants per year. This means that nurses will not take green cards away from others currently queued up. In addition to the removal of nurse petitions from the green card caps, which this bill proposes, the requirement for the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to review the I-140 of the nurse petition within 30 days of submission is a crucial step in expediting this process,” says Rudinsky.

Currently, the average time for an approval on this piece of a green card application is eight to 12 months, she explains.

“Obviously, this bill is a significant step in the right direction for hospitals that struggle with the well-known shortage of healthcare workers,” adds Rudinsky.

This article is part of a series called News & Trends.
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