Legislation Addresses Nurses, Physician Shortages

May 1, 2020

Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin announced IHA-supported bipartisan legislation to address healthcare professional shortages by recapturing unused immigrant visas and making them available to doctors and nurses. The Healthcare Workforce Resilience Act would recapture 25,000 unused immigrant visas for nurses and 15,000 for doctors, and allocate them to professionals able to help in the fight against COVID-19. 

“IHA strongly supports this legislation and applauds Sen. Durbin's commitment to ensuring all Illinoisans have access to healthcare, especially as we respond to the COVID-19 pandemic,” said IHA President and CEO A.J. Wilhelmi. “Illinois faces a critical shortage of nurses and physicians. As our healthcare heroes work around the clock to respond to the pandemic, IHA urges Congress to pass this legislation to deliver help to the frontlines. By relieving the backlog of immigrant visas for physicians and professional nurses, this legislation will expand access to care, especially in rural and underserved communities.” 

According to a summary of the legislation, “There are currently thousands of nurses who are stuck overseas due to the green card backlogs and bureaucratic delays, even though they are working to gain approval or have already been approved to come to the United States as lawful permanent residents. Additionally, there are thousands of doctors who are currently working in our country on temporary visas with approved immigrant petitions and are stuck in the green card backlog. While they are already serving our communities, these doctors face many limitations due to their temporary status, such as not being able to take a shift at a second hospital where they may be desperately needed to assist with treating COVID-19 patients.”

According to the press release from Sen. Durbin’s office, the legislation takes the following action:

  • Recaptures unused visas from previous fiscal years for doctors, nurses, and their families;   
  • Exempts these visas from country caps;   
  • Requires employers to attest that immigrants from overseas who receive these visas will not displace an American worker;   
  • Requires the Department of Homeland Security and State Department to expedite the processing of recaptured visas; and   
  • Limits the filing period for recaptured visas to 90 days following the termination of the President’s COVID-19 emergency declaration.

The Healthcare Workforce Resilience Act will be introduced when the Senate reconvenes. In addition to IHA, the act is supported by the American Hospital Association, American Organization for Nursing Leadership, Physicians for American Healthcare Access, American Immigration Lawyers Association, and National Immigration Forum.

A section-by-section outline of the act is available here.