Amid an ongoing domestic nursing shortage, the US healthcare sector is once again at risk of suffering from the long-term ramifications of COVID-19 after the State Department announced a decision that will reduce the number of green cards granted to incoming nurses.

In a May bulletin, the Department announced it had moved the cut-off date for visa eligibility to June 1, 2022. In other words, only applicants who had filed before that date will be able to continue with the visa process this fiscal year. Any individual who filed after will no longer be able to move forward with their application. In essence, this blocks potentially thousands of nurses from obtaining a green card to come work in the United States. The American Association of International Healthcare Recruitment (AAIHR) estimated at least two-thirds of the thousands of international nurses in their pipeline to enter the U.S. this year won’t be able to immigrate because of the State Department’s freeze.

This could spell disaster for the already depleted domestic workforce, overrun with staffing shortages as under-resourced facilities push nurses to leaving the field prematurely. Amid widespread burnout and unprecedented turnover, the US is facing a projected shortage of 200,000 nurses within the next few years. To fill critical gaps in care, healthcare facilities have turned to international nurses. Now, with that lifeline threatened, hospitals are once again at risk of lacking the resources necessary to aptly care for patients.

In an interview with POLITICO, Paula Butts, the chief nursing officer at Piedmont Henry Hospital outside Atlanta, expressed her frustration at the State Department taking away this crucial resource, saying “We have to have every tool in the toolbox in order to meet this crisis, and it’s just very disappointing when you have such a useful tool taken away from you.”

In this time of crisis, policymakers should be supporting the healthcare sector—not stripping it of a crucial resource that helps sustain it. Read more from POLITICO here.