By: Attorneys Robert L. Reeves and Joseph I Elias
President Bush signed into law on May 11, 2005 the Emergency Supplemental Appropriations Act for Defense which contain temporary immigration relief for Nurses (RNs) and Physical Therapists (PTs). It allows unused visa numbers from the 2001, 2002, 2003, and 2004 employment-based green card category to be released to RNs and PTs. But, no more than 50,000 visas may be issued. However, we are saddened by some of the onerous immigration restrictions contained in the law, especially the provision known as the Real ID Act and those relating to asylum.
This is a terrific, but temporary fix for RN’s and PTs, especially those immigrating from the Philippines, China, and India. In January 2005, green card visas for RNs and PTs from these countries ran out and a three-plus year wait for the green card was created. Visa numbers are still available for RNs from other countries. RNs and PTs compete with other workers such as computer programmers, accountants, bookkeepers, engineers and administrative assistants for these immigrant visas.
The 50,000 visas in the Real ID Act are available only to RNs, PTs and a few other occupations classified as Schedule A. This is a significant number because it is much larger than the normal world-wide pool available to RN’s and PT’s. Because the only countries facing a backlog of visas for RNs and PTs are the Philippines, China, and India the additional allocation of visas can immediately be used by citizens of these countries.
When the numbers first ran out, many RNs and PTs were already in the U.S. waiting to adjust their status to green card holders. These individuals have been in a holding pattern since then waiting for a visa number to become available. In addition, no new adjustment of status applications were accepted by the CIS for RNs and PTs. The new numbers mean that people on hold will soon be able to obtain their green cards. And, RNs in the U.S. will soon be able to file adjustment of status applications.
The depletion of visa numbers also affected RNs and PTs overseas. RNs in the Philippines had to wait three years for a green card after an employer sponsored them. As a practical matter, RNs had to find an employer willing to sponsor them and then wait for three years before they actually start working. Few employers are willing to wait three years before a worker can start working. The additional visa numbers should eliminate the long wait.
Because the U.S. has an acute shortage of qualified RNs and PTs, it is anticipated that the 50,000 additional visa numbers will be used up quickly. RNs and PTs in the Philippines, China, and India should establish contacts with U.S. employers in order to obtain a visa number before they run out.