On June 22, 2020, President Trump issued Proclamation 10052, which severely restricted entry to the U.S. for certain immigrants, including healthcare workers such as nurses and doctors. These immigration changes occurred when the U.S. was dealing with the initial outbreak – cutting off a critical source of trained medical workers. Furthermore, the U.S. is still dealing with serious COVID-19 outbreaks in almost every state outside of the Northeast, including Illinois. Therefore, the shortage of nurses was severe at the beginning of the pandemic but looked to be even worse.
Exemption for Skilled Workers Under H1-B
The Proclamation does include an exemption for skilled workers under the H1-B program who are providing medical services to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. Indeed, some doctors have used that exemption to get residencies in U.S. hospitals. However, the immigration ban delegates the authority to issue exceptions to the State and Homeland Security departments. Both of these agencies have yet to issue clear guidance to embassies and consulates. Therefore, approvals are being done on a piecemeal basis.
Effect of the Ban
Indeed, ProPublica reports that it interviewed ten healthcare workers destined for jobs in U.S. hospitals. Of those ten, six were scheduled with emergency appointments where they were told their applications could not be approved. Another three were waiting for review by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Finally, another’s application was approved, but his interview wasn’t scheduled due to the ban. It wasn’t for several weeks before the State Department issued clear rules which resulted in their swift approvals.
Despite the guidance, hospitals across the U.S. are short on healthcare workers. A New York City hospital and a hospital in a large Midwestern city both said it only has about half of its first-year doctors, and nurses are starting on time. There are also hospitals in the Deep South reporting that they are short medical workers. Moreover, the ban is also affecting experienced doctors: An infectious disease expert who was expected to conduct research in the Western U.S. was denied entry.
In short, the ban is depriving hospitals of badly needed doctors and nurses. Moreover, due to the delays, hospitals which ordinarily schedule in time for residents to learn the ropes over the summer, are now facing the prospect of their healthcare workers being overwhelmed and undertrained by the Fall flu season.