Update on US visas for Nurses – Possible new W Visa

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There is currently a huge shortage of nurses in the US; About 116,000 unfilled registered nurse vacancies at U.S. hospitals and nearly 100,000 nurse vacancies at Nursing homes.

On February 11, 2009, a new Nurse Relief Act was introduced in the House - HR 1001. This would introduce a new non-immigrant W visa category for nurses with an annual cap of 50,000. Currently it is difficult for nurses to gain entry to the US:

  • Preference is given to nurses under the third preference employment based immigrant category. Nurses and physiotherapists come under Schedule A and do not require labor certification. However, at the present time visas are unavailable under this category. We will have to wait until October to see if any more visas become available.
  • The H-3 non-immigrant visa allows temporary entry for the purposes of training in the US. You are expected to leave at the end of the training period.
  • In a limited number of cases where you are employing very senior level nurses the H-1B non-immigrant visa may be possible. However, this is difficult.
  • Similarly, in a limited number of cases it may be possible for nurses to gain entry under the J-1 exchange visitor scheme.

The Findings and Purpose of the Bill:

  1. There are more vacant nursing positions in the United States than there are qualified registered nurses and nursing school candidates to fill those positions.
  2. According to the Department of Labor, the current national nursing shortage exceeds 126,000.
  3. States in the West and Southwest have a disproportionate number of nursing vacancies because of rapid population growth, which exacerbates a widening gap in the number of facilities and staff compared to patients that need care.
  4. Foreign countries such as the Philippines, India, and China have an oversupply of nurses.
  5. Major hospital systems in the United States spend hundreds of millions of dollars every year recruiting foreign nurses under our current immigration system.
  6. Current law, with certain limited exceptions, requires health care providers to sponsor desired nurses for permanent resident status while the nurses remain outside of the United States, which can take as much as 3 years or more.
  7. This cost is passed on to consumers and adds to the rising cost of health care.
  8. Health care providers cannot efficiently and effectively recruit qualified foreign nurses through the existing immigration process.
  9. Our health care system requires an immediate modification of Federal laws relating to recruitment of qualified foreign nurses in order to operate at an efficient and effective level.

US President Barack Obama wants to train more nurses locally to deal with the shortage of nurses. However, it takes years to train nurses. Even if more nurses are trained in the US it is unlikely that this will provide all the nurses needed in the US. The only way forward is to allow in nurses from Countries such as India, china and the Philippines. On 6 March 2009 Obama made the following comments

"The notion that we would have to import nurses makes absolutely no sense," Obama told a gathering of health experts and lawmakers at a White House meeting on health care reforms.

"For people who get fired up about the immigration debate and yet don't notice that we could be training nurses right here in the United States," he said responding to Congresswoman Lois Capps from California.

"We have a huge shortage of nurses today. Estimates are that the US will be lacking over 500,000 nurses in the next seven years," said Capps.

"That's something that we've got to fix. That should be a no-brainer. That should be a bipartisan no-brainer, to make sure that we've got the best possible nursing staffs in the country," Obama said.