A new, deeply reported article in the Washington Post explores how our country’s antiquated immigration system prevents thousands of qualified nurses – who are desperately needed in hospitals and desperately want to work in America – from coming stateside.
The Post notes that our “broken immigration system” has been “untouched by Congress for 33 years and largely operating on a framework dating to 1965.” According to the Post, “[s]ince Congress last updated the number of new arrivals the country will admit each year — a tiny fraction of whom are allowed to come in permanently to work — the economy is more than twice as large.”
Foreign-educated nurses require EB-3 visas to work in the U.S. But they must vie for one of only 40,000 that are issued each year, which are also eligible for other high-skilled workers like lawyers and engineers. As a result, each year “as few as 5,000 nurses make the cut.”
Repeated delays in new visas being issued have put hospitals that have been waiting years to onboard foreign-educated nurses in challenging situations. One Bismarck, North Dakota hospital director told the Post that some patients might need to be transferred 200 miles away to their Fargo hospital without the hiring of foreign-educated nurses they expected to arrive.
Federal agencies are also understaffed and unable to process visa applications on a reasonable timeline. Part of the bureaucratic crawl can be attributed to outdated technology and processes.
While Congress has failed to act for decades, the dire circumstances have the attention of at least some members. In November, Sens. Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Kevin Cramer (R-ND) introduced the Healthcare Workforce Resilience Act, which has been cosponsored by numerous members of both parties. The commonsense piece of legislation, which also has bipartisan support in the House, would allow the federal government to issue unused visas from previous years to bolster America’s healthcare workforce.
Hospitals have become desperate for staffing and patients are unfairly feeling the effects. Congress should prioritize passing the Healthcare Workforce Resilience Act to bolster our healthcare system and improve patient care.