Immigrant nurses are on the frontlines battling the COVID-19 pandemic and a filling critical personnel shortages at numerous hospitals. Even before the outbreak, many hospitals were reporting shortages of healthcare workers. However, these shortages are exacerbated by the pandemic. Immigrant nurses are filling critical roles at numerous hospitals; however, they are still facing obstacles that are impeding their ability to work in the medical field.
Pandemic is Straining Hospitals
Immigrant nurses are filling critical roles at hospitals in the middle of the pandemic. Many are bilingual, which is an asset when communicating with patients. Numerous hospitals are converting elective surgery wings into emergency medicine COVID-19 wards. These wards are often staffed substantially by immigrant nurses.
Getting Certified to Practice Medicine in the United States
However, many nurses who may be licensed in other countries, are prevented from operating to their full potential in the United States because they lack certain certifications. Foreign-registered nurses must take English classes and pass several tests before they are permitted to practice as nurses in the United States. The same is true for doctors who face even more steep hurdles before they are permitted to practice in the United States.
Governors Loosen Licensing Requirements
In recognition of the valuable services immigrant nurses and doctors provide during the pandemic, several states are relaxing licensing requirements. For example, Nevada issued an emergency order which authorized the state chief medical officer to issue exemptions and waivers for professional licensing requirements if they are licensed in a foreign country and can prove they are credentialed. Similarly, in New Jersey, medical providers licensed in another country, and in good standing, can practice medicine in the United States.
These programs are designed to tap into an estimated 263,000 (per a study conducted by the Migration Policy Institute) immigrants and refugees who are unemployed or underemployed relative to their education and training. Further, immigrants are filling crucial roles that are being vacated by an aging American workforce.
Many of these immigrant healthcare workers are “DREAMers.” DREAMers refers to immigrants who were brought here as children illegally. They grew up in the United States, went to US schools, speak English (and often a second language), and are integrated into the American economy. The DREAMers are covered by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), which was started under the Obama Administration. However, the program is being challenged in court by the Trump Administration.