On the heels of Congressional leaders announcing that they are considering Comprehensive Immigration Reform that could increase the number of employment-based visas, the National Foundation for American Policy (NFAP) has just released a 27 page detailed Report, “U.S. Government , Heal Thyself : Immigration Restrictions and America’s Growing Healthcare Needs”. The NFAP Report’s recommendations include:
1) Expand the number of employment-based green cards so the wait times for skilled immigrants, including nurses, physicians, and physical/occupational therapists, can be measured in weeks or months, rather than in years or decades.
2) Establish a temporary visa that facilitates the entry of foreign nurses. Current temporary visas do not work for the vast majority of foreign nurses and their potential employers.
3) To aid patients in under-served areas and enable more U.S.-trained doctors to pursue specialized medical fields expand the Conrad 30 program to include many more physicians per state and in the country as a whole. Also, we should consider policies to overcome the limitations on medical residency slots in the U.S. by developing guidelines to allow foreign-trained doctors to practice in the United States if they can demonstrate a high level of expertise. Congress logically should include physicians and medical researchers in biology and chemistry in the definition of Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) for exemption from employment-based green card quotas in future legislation.
4) Streamline state licensing and other procedures for foreign medical personnel, including physical therapists and occupational therapists, to help with the nation’s long-term health needs.
The report makes a compelling argument. It explains how staffing shortages lead to dire consequences for US patients and how these staffing shortages are not being served by US workers. These staffing shortages will remain for the foreseeable future, given greater demand for smaller nurse-patient ratios, a paucity of instructors, the graying of the existing workforce, and other institutional factors.
The Report details the present visa options and the failure of these options to satisfy healthcare staffing needs. The failures of the H-1B, TN, and current green card programs to adequately address these staffing shortages are fully explained in the NFAP Report. (One quibble: the Report lists the H-1C visa as “reauthorized”, which it was; it subsequently expired in 2009, thus taking yet another option off of the table.)
The Report is chock full of data and should be required reading for anyone in the industry and ought to be on the desk of any Congressional staff who are looking to establish policy initiatives aimed at a significant gap in the current US immigration policy.