By Attorneys Robert L. Reeves and Joseph I. Elias
On November 1, 2006, immigrant visa numbers for Registered Nurses (RN) and Physical Therapists (PT) retrogressed for one year. The demand for the visas exceeded the supply creating a one-year backlog for immigrant visas. As of today, there are only visas available for RNs and PTs whose employers filed immigrant visa petitions on or before October 1, 2005.
In early 2005 Congress acted on a four to five-year visa backlog for RNs and PTs by allocating an additional 50,000 visas for RNs and PTs. By May 11, 2005, the additional visas were available. These 50,000 visas ran out on November 1, 2006. Many immigration practitioners and medical service providers were expecting the backlog to be at least four years. The fact that it appears to be a year-long backlog is somewhat of a relief, but is still unacceptable.
Reeves and Associates, hospitals, medical associations, individuals and immigration practitioners are lobbying Congress very hard for a solution to this visa crisis. Foreign RNs and PTs are providing crucial public health medical services because there are not enough U.S. workers to fill these positions. Medical facilities can not operate at full capacity and in some areas are not able to provide necessary/adequate health services due to the shortage. Patients literally have been turned away.
The 50,000 visas allocated in 2005 were a temporary fix—only a bandage. The different groups lobbying Congress for help realize this and are pushing for more long-term solutions. Some of our institutional clients have told us about their head-to-head meetings with Senators and Congressional Representatives pushing for reform. One promising Senate bill is being proposed in which RNs and PTs would not be subject to any visa cap until the Department of Labor determines there are sufficient workers in this field. The Department of Labor has already projected that U.S. RNs and PTs are graduating at a rate too low to keep up with demand for at least the next ten years.
Another proposal is to revise the manner in which visa numbers are counted. Currently, if an RN immigrates to the U.S. with their spouse and children, visa numbers are deducted for each of them from the visa pool. The proposed revision is to only deduct one visa number for each RN and allow the family members to immigrate without utilizing the visa numbers set aside for RNs.
In the last RN and PT visa crisis, Congress acted within a few short months. Now is the time for Congress to provide a quick and longer-term solution. Otherwise, Congressional representatives will have to provide an explanation to their constituents as to why they cannot receive adequate medical care. R&A is urging Congress to resolve the visa shortage by providing sufficient visas for our badly needed immigrant health care workers.