September 24, 2008
VISANOW Outlines Immigration Options for Hospitals Challenged to Fill Nursing Positions
In recent years, the U.S. healthcare system has faced the growing challenge of staffing hospitals and medical centers in the midst of a nursing shortage that, at its current rate, could restrict many facilities from providing the expected levels of care. VISANOW, the industry leading immigration solution provider, has highlighted the impact of pending legislation that would revamp the hiring landscape for hospitals and other medical facilities.
"A large pool of foreign nursing candidates and physical therapists is available to address hospital staffing concerns," stated Bob Meltzer, CEO of VISANOW. "However, current immigration regulations have significantly limited hospitals' ability to hire these qualified workers and, as a result, repercussions are being felt throughout the healthcare system."Although many foreign nursing students study in the U.S. and graduate from U.S. nursing programs, they are often unable to work following the expiration of their Optional Practical Training (OPT) due to limited immigration options. The majority of nursing candidates file for permanent residency to secure a green card and the ability to gain legal employment in the U.S. Due to a significant backlog in such applications, however, many have to wait two to three years for approval of their cases.
Although H-1B visas - originally designed for applicants qualified to fill a specialty occupation on a temporary basis - would be a stop-gap for some, the mandated number of H-1Bs available annually has significantly reduced this as a feasible option. A limited number of alternative non-immigrant visas are available, but each caters to a very specific niche demographic. For example, the TN visa is available only for Canadian and Mexican applicants, the E-3 for Australian applicants, and the H-1C is available only for hospitals located in disadvantaged areas and is rarely a fit.
With the introduction of recent legislation, however, changes to the limiting immigration process for foreign employees of hospitals and other medical facilities may soon be on the way. The Emergency Nursing Supply Relief Act would remove registered nurses and physical therapists from the current green card caps - allowing for an additional 20,000 available applicants per year. In addition, the legislation would require the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to review the I-140 of the nurse petitions within 30 days of submission. Currently, that review process is averaging 8 to 12 months.
"Obviously, this bill is a significant step in the right direction for hospitals that struggle with staffing concerns," commented Meltzer. "The requirement of an expedited review process by the USCIS and the removal of these applications from the current green card caps indicate that the severity of this challenge is understood by some in Washington. Hopefully, this will lead to a workable solution as a piece-by-piece approach to comprehensive immigration reform begins to move forward."
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