By Attorneys Robert L. Reeves and Joseph I. Elias
On October 23, 2007, the House passed two amendments to the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act of 2008 to increase immigrant visa numbers for Registered Nurses (RNs) and Physical Therapists (PTs). The amendments provide that up to 50,000 unused visa numbers from fiscal years 1996 and 1997 be allocated to RNs and PTs. The new law would also require the Department of Homeland Security to provide a process for reviewing and acting upon RN and PT immigrant visa petitions within 30 days of a petition being filed.
This long awaited and welcomed movement in Congress promises to remove a six-year backlog for RN and PT visa availability. It also shows that Congress wants the Immigration Service to process RN and PT petitions in a prompt manner. This legislation is very similar to that passed in 2005 that also increased visa numbers for RNs and PTs by 50,000. That legislation proved to be only a temporary fix for the acute healthcare worker shortage with visa numbers starting to run out in November of 2006.
The amendments add two new requirements one of which is only applicable to RNs. The first is a new $1,500 fee for RN petitions. There is no new fee for PTs. Employers in medically underserved areas will be exempted from the new fee. The proceeds will go to U.S. nursing schools to help increase faculty and students. The second requirement is that RNs and PTs must file an attestation that they have no outstanding obligation to their home government or country of residence. One such obligation would be an agreement where the RN or PT received financial assistance to defray education or training costs in return for a commitment to work in the home country or country of residence.
This legislation is once again only a temporary solution to the visa shortage. In order for it to become law, the Senate must pass an identical version and submit it to the President for signature. Once signed by the President, it becomes law. There are, however, some obstacles to this law. A separate immigration amendment to this appropriations act was also passed that imposes a new $3,500 H-1B fee. This is being strongly opposed because, if passed, H-1B fees will increase to a total of $5,820 for most employers.
It is possible that this offending H-1B amendment may be stricken by the Conference Committee. Or, the H-1B fee increase opposition may wind up scuttling all the immigration amendments. One positive note is that these amendments are attached to an appropriations bill for several government agencies. This is the funding that will allow the agencies to budget for and operate in fiscal year 2008. Congress therefore, cannot afford to hold up this legislation.
Reeves & Associates is actively contacting its members of Congress in support of the increased visa numbers for RNs and PTs. We are also urging all our clients to contact their representatives in support of the increased visa numbers. It is clear that Congress understands the need for the visas. Hopefully, Congress will recognize the H-1B fee increase amendment should be a separate issue that should not impact the decision to increase RN and PT visa numbers. We will provide more information on this legislation as it unfolds.