By:  Richard Hanus, Esq.

April 23, 2023

News from the U.S. Department of State earlier this month paints a picture of an increasingly frustrating immigrant visa line foreign workers, like registered nurses, are forced to wait in before arriving in the U.S.   The picture and long waits are ugly enough for foreign nurses and their petitioning employers to cut bait on all immigration efforts, or at least yearn for the old days.

Back in the 1990’s when registered nursing had already been deemed to be a shortage profession, a healthcare facility looking to recruit foreign R.N.’s had the H-1A visa at their disposal.  The H-1A visa was part of a user friendly temporary visa program that allowed R.N.’s to enter the US for an extendable three year period, following a several month petition process.  Once in the U.S. on an H-1A visa, the foreign R.N. would have a relatively straight forward path to permanent resident or “Green Card” status.

Fast forward three decades, and after too many instances of misuse, the H-1A visa is no longer a thing.  As a result, facilities and foreign R.N.’s are largely left to the immigrant visa process where petitioned nurses are issued Green Cards upon entry, but only after a process that can take years instead of months.

Each year, Congress makes available approximately 40,000 “EB-3” immigrant visas for foreign skilled workers and professionals like Registered Nurses.   Each year, our nation is reminded that we need Congress to expand this allotment, due to demand exceeding supply by a significant margin and especially for workers being petitioned from India, China and the Philippines.  With the recent release of the U.S. Department of State’s May, 2023 Visa Bulletin, users of our immigration system are again reminded of the woefully inadequate annual supply, as the visa line trended backwards yet again, with the imposition of a new, earlier visa cut off date for the R.N. category of visas.

What this means is as sad as it is simple: hundreds, if not thousands, of qualified, vetted and sorely needed R.N.’s in queue to be interviewed at U.S. consular posts abroad and issued visas will now be kept in line to wait.   For what?  For their turn to enter the U.S. according to our nation’s yearly allocation of visas, OR, for Congress to act to expand the number of visas we give to professionals, such as those looking to help the cause of desperate healthcare facilities and overall, our nation’s healthcare system.

(It’s important to note that foreign R.N.’s currently in the U.S. and undergoing U.S. immigration processes here face similar challenges, although options to obtain an employment authorization document while waiting may be available.)

Without remedial legislation, there indeed continues to be easy ways our government agencies can play more efficient roles in current processes. For instance, the U.S. Dept. of Labor can expand their human resources pool to allow for quicker review of Prevailing Wage Determination requests.  The same goes for the Dept. of State where increased staffing could increase the number of R.N. immigrant visa interviews being scheduled at U.S. consular posts abroad.

But even after more efficient agency processes are put in place we are still left with immigration laws better suited for a bygone era and a time when our society did not face the kind of workforce and healthcare challenges we see today.  It’s time to explore whether Congress truly has that good of a reason not to enact legislation that would better cater to the needs of U.S. healthcare facilities as well as all of our industries.

Why not reestablish a temporary visa program for Registered Nurses, with significant safeguards in place to make sure the R.N.’s are paid at or above market wages, and the rights of U.S. workers are not adversely impacted?   Why not increase the yearly limit on immigrant visas are available for foreign R.N.’s, so that facilities and prospective foreign R.N.’s do not need to constantly face backward trending visa lines?   A serious and honest consideration of these questions will likely lead to answers to all kinds of other questions that plague our old and broken legal immigration system.

PUBLISHED April 23, 2023 – “IMMIGRATION LAW FORUM” Copyright © 2023, By Law Offices of Richard Hanus, Chicago, Illinois