Legislation To Address Health Care Workforce Shortages, Prioritize Merit-Based Immigration Introduced

Featured & Cover Legislation To Address Health Care Workforce Shortages Prioritize Merit Based Immigration Introduced (McKnight's LTC News)

U.S. Senators Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) and Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) introduced legislation to address health care workforce shortages by recapturing previously authorized Green Cards that simply went unused. The senators’ bill introduced on November 7th, 2023, also establishes merit-based immigration policies.

“Legal immigration is a critical part of our workforce,” said Rounds. “As the health care worker shortage continues to impact South Dakota and other rural states, we are in need of qualified, hard-working nurses and physicians to fill positions in hospitals, clinics and nursing homes. I’m pleased to join Senator Cramer on this legislation that would increase our ability to provide timely, quality health care to South Dakotans.”

“In rural states like North Dakota, highly skilled immigrant doctors and nurses play a critical role in our healthcare workforce, sometimes providing the only specialty care available in the area,” said Cramer. “Our open borders and per-country caps are nonsensical and chaotic. It’s long-past time our immigration policies reflected a skills-based approach, welcoming hard-working immigrants who help fill the labor and service gaps in the U.S.”

Legislation To Address Health Care Workforce Shortages Prioritize Merit Based Immigration Introduced (Getty Images)
Picture: Getty Images

The Healthcare Workforce Resilience Act would make a limited number of Green Cards available to qualified immigrant nurses and physicians to address critical health care workforce shortages. The bill would also allow the “recapture” of Green Cards already authorized by Congress but unused in previous years, allotting up to 25,000 immigrant visas for nurses and up to 15,000 immigrant visas for physicians. This bill does not authorize any new visas.

This legislation would require employers to attest that immigrants from overseas who receive these visas will not displace an American worker. Additionally, it would necessitate eligible immigrant medical professionals to meet licensing requirements, pay filing fees and clear rigorous national security and criminal history background checks before they can receive recaptured Green Cards.

The Healthcare Workforce Resilience Act is supported by the South Dakota Association of Healthcare Organizations, Sanford Health and Avera Health.

“The South Dakota Association of Healthcare Organizations (SDAHO) fully supports any effort to strengthen the healthcare workforce as staffing shortages continue to be the number one problem for our members across the continuum of care, from hospitals to nursing homes,” said Tammy Hatting, Chief Operating Officer of SDAHO.

“We need to streamline and expedite the hiring and placement of qualified immigrants in our healthcare facilities, and we are thankful to our South Dakota Senator, Mike Rounds, for cosponsoring this very important bill.”

“Sanford Health is grateful for the support from Senator Rounds as a sponsor of the Healthcare Workforce Resilience Act,” said Corey Brown, System Vice President, Government Affairs of Sanford Health. “Workforce is a critical challenge in healthcare, especially in rural areas. Recapturing unused VISAs is a commonsense measure that allows us to employ internationally educated nurses and physicians who are an integral and important part of our workforce.”

“Maintaining a highly skilled workforce is vital to providing care across our rural footprint, which covers 72 thousand square miles” said Kim Jensen, Chief Human Resources Officer of Avera Health. “Often there are not enough nurses and physicians available to recruit to fill our workforce needs. The Healthcare Workforce Resilience Act would help fill critical positions and offer meaningful work experiences for those who want to practice in the United States.”

Both bills advocate for the establishment of merit-based immigration policies.  The Healthcare Workforce Resilience Act, spearheaded by Senators Kevin Cramer and Dick Durbin, is designed to alleviate healthcare workforce shortages by providing a set number of green cards for qualified immigrant doctors and nurses. The legislation proposes the “recapture” of green cards previously authorized by Congress but left unused in past years.

Specifically, the bill allocates up to 25,000 immigrant visas for nurses and up to 15,000 immigrant visas for physicians, addressing critical gaps in the healthcare workforce. The Act, if enacted, would impose requirements to ensure that immigrants receiving these visas do not displace American workers.

Employers would be obligated to attest to this condition. Moreover, eligible immigrant medical professionals seeking recaptured green cards would need to meet licensing requirements, pay filing fees, and successfully undergo rigorous national security and criminal history background checks.

The Act addresses the challenges faced by many prospective employment-based immigrants who, due to per-country caps, endure lengthy waits for visa availability. Often, these individuals live and work in the U.S. on temporary visas while awaiting permanent residency. The legislation aims to alleviate the backlog, particularly for those who face extended waiting periods, by phasing out the per-country limit on employment-based immigrant visas.

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