U.S. Senate Subcommittee Holds Hearing on Health Care Professional Shortage
June 15, 2001

It is no secret that many places in the U.S. are suffering from a severe shortage of healthcare professionals, especially Registered Nurses. The exact nature of the shortage, the reasons behind it, and possible remedies were the topics discussed during a U.S. Senate Subcommittee hearing conducted on May 22, 2001. What was agreed upon is the fact that there is a shortage. In dispute, are the reasons for the shortage and possible solutions to address the problem.

From the U.S. worker/union perspective, the problem is with working conditions. Stress, long hours, and sub par salaries are the reasons our country faces a shortage of registered nurses. And, as one union representative testified, expanding the immigration possibilities to bring over more foreign R.N.’s will only worsen the current working conditions for U.S. workers. That is because the worst U.S. work environment for an R.N is still better than the conditions prevailing in most of the countries the foreign R.N. is leaving.

It appeared, however, that most of the testimony focused on more foreign R.N.’s as being the remedy. One economist testified that she saw no evidence of adverse working conditions for U.S. workers arising as a result of the entry of foreign R.N.’s into the Miami-Ft. Lauderdale area. Contrary to popular belief, as the economist study revealed, foreign R.N.’s who entered on H-1A visas did not receive less pay than their U.S. counterparts and were not exposed to inferior working conditions. She also concluded that the H-1A nurses made up a very small percentage of the total local R.N. population and were spread across many types of specialties and institutions in the area.

Along with the economist, several other experts similarly concluded that the current system allowing for the entry of foreign R.N.’s to work in the U.S. is far from adequate. According to these experts, easier and faster ways to facilitate foreign R.N. entry into the U.S. must be instituted – as the avenues now in place are ineffective. Specifically, the H-1C visa program (which replaced the H-1A visa) is practically useless, since it is limited to 500 visas per year, and the restrictions contained in governing regulations are prohibitively complicated and onerous.

As far as the immigrant visa possibility is concerned, yes it is a viable option. However, it usually takes at least 9 to 12 months to facilitate visa issuance, and the foreign R.N. must meet new, more stringent testing and certification requirements before being allowed entry.

The bottom line, according to the pro foreign R.N. camp, is the nursing shortage is severe and it will only get worse both in urban and rural areas. In order to address this problem, options for health care institutions to fill their positions with foreign R.N.’s with greater ease and efficiency must be created – where paperwork is kept to a minimum and processing times do not exceed 1 or 2 months.

There seems to be no question that easier, more liberal U.S. immigration possibilities for foreign R.N.’s will happen. Exactly what those possibilities will be and when they will be instituted is still unclear.

Copyright © 2001-2008, By Law Offices of Richard Hanus, Chicago, Illinois