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Amid huge staff shortages caused primarily by the coronavirus pandemic, many US hospitals are looking overseas for healthcare workers. The push among America’s hospitals to hire from overseas comes at a time when an ‘unusually high’ number of US green cards are available for foreign professionals, including nurses, who want to move to the United States.
There are currently double the amount of US employment-based visas (green cards) available than there has been for decades, creating an opportunity for many overseas professionals to come to the US.
US hospitals are suffering dire staff shortages, with the COVID-19 pandemic wreaking havoc across America’s healthcare system. Many nurses were hit by burnout, leading many to retire or leave their jobs. Meanwhile, COVID cases continue to rise and fall, putting the US healthcare system under enormous strain.
California nursing shortage
In California alone there is an estimated shortage of nurses totaling 40,000 – or 14% of the workforce – according to a recent report published by the University of California based in San Francisco.
US hospitals are currently plugging the gaps by hiring traveling nurses, but this can be expensive. Meanwhile, hospital administrators say that not enough nurses are graduating from US universities.
As a result, many US hospitals have long resorted to bringing in nurses from overseas from countries like the Philippines, Jamaica and other English-speaking nations. In the present climate, recruiters are trying to take advantage of the US green card windfall before the fiscal year ends in September.
140,000 green cards issued
The US typically offers at least 140,000 green cards each year to foreign nationals arriving in America permanently for certain professional jobs, including nursing. Most US green cards are issued to foreign nationals already living in the US on temporary visas.
In the current year, 280,000 US green cards are available, and recruiters are hopeful that they can hire more foreign nurses to work in ‘pandemic-weary’ hospitals in the US.
Meanwhile, the Biden administration, which has taken steps to reverse many of Donald Trump’s policies restricting legal immigration to the US, has implemented some measures to try and help foreign healthcare workers to secure a US visa so they can help in the fight against the pandemic.
Priority US visas
In 2021, the US Department of State (DoS) told consulates worldwide to prioritize US visa applications for workers at facilities responding to the pandemic.
Doctor Roxie Wells, president of Cape Fear Valley Hoke Hospital in Raeford, North Carolina, said that she had started trying to bring in foreign nurses prior to the pandemic, but it wasn’t until 2021 that she started to see new recruits getting consular interviews in large numbers.
Dr. Wells said: “So far, about 150 recruits have been approved to come and work in the US, but we’re still waiting on another 75.”
“Obviously it has become more necessary during the pandemic. The 150, if we didn’t have them, we would be in a precarious situation,” Dr. Wells added.
The surge in the Omicron variant of coronavirus across the United States has added to the strain on an already stretched healthcare system, with more hospital staff getting sick with the virus and being sidelined at a time when patient numbers are once again rising.
President of International Nurse Staffing Solutions for AMN Healthcare, Sinead Carbery, said: “Demand for international nurses has risen between 300% and 400% since the pandemic began. The number of nurses that can be brought into the United States even with the additional green cards won’t be enough to meet demand.”
“Many more recruiters are now seeking to hire nurses overseas because there are immigrant visas available. This is a window of opportunity. Because everything is flowing so well, there’s a lot of competition for that talent,” Carbery added.
National Nurses United, a union that represents 175,000 registered nurses, said that more scrutiny should be given to international recruitment to ensure that foreign nurses are not brought in and subjected to unsafe working conditions.
Assistant director of the union, Michelle Mahon, said: “Many foreign nurses sign yearslong contracts with employers, which can make it hard for them to speak up about labor or patient safety concerns. She said hospitals that saw nurses quit during the pandemic are turning to an overseas workforce to replace them.”
“This kind of dynamic is particularly attractive right now to employers who have not made any of the changes necessary to ensure patient and nursing safety during this COVID-19 pandemic. Instead of them addressing the actual problem, they want to go and pivot to this other really fake solution,” Mahon added.
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