Immigrants make up 16.4% of the healthcare workforce, totaling 2.8 million healthcare professionals. However, those percentages are significantly higher in several states. For example, there are approximately 556,016 immigrant healthcare workers in California, which is 31.6% of the healthcare workforce. In New York State, about 402,731 workers are comprising 34.3% of all healthcare workers. In the following states, immigrants make up more than one in five healthcare workers:
- New Jersey: 30.6%
- Massachusetts: 22.6%
- Florida: 28.4%
- Maryland 24.9%
Even in Illinois, foreign healthcare workers represent 16.9% of all healthcare workers, totaling approximately 114,405 professionals.
Worker Shortage Before the COVID-19 Pandemic
On June 22, 2020, the Trump Administration imposed a blanket immigration ban in the United States that rippled across all industries. This ban acutely affected the healthcare industry. The ban did include exceptions for healthcare workers. However, the Administration also furloughed thousands of State Department workers and closed consulates and embassies, which effectively shut out immigrant healthcare officials from applying under those exceptions.
According to the New American Economy survey conducted in 2018, there were 27 open healthcare jobs for every available unemployed healthcare professional (such as registered nurses, doctors, and surgeons). Moreover, across the entire healthcare workforce, there were 12.3 open jobs for every unemployed worker. Significant healthcare gaps are in numerous states. For example, there are 20.7 open jobs for every unemployed healthcare professional; in New York, it is 20.9, in California, there are 26.8, in Virginia, it is 33, and in Georgia, it is 37.4. The United States was dealing with a healthcare worker shortage crisis for years before 2020, and now the pandemic is exacerbating those problems.
Pandemic Exposes Overstretched Healthcare Industry
There were dozens of news reports from New York, Florida, and Louisiana of hospitals overwhelmed by the number of COVID-19 patients. Hospitals were building emergency wings, erecting tents in parking lots, and offering a job to anyone with even the most remote healthcare experience. While the country is dealing with a health crisis, the Trump Administration cut off immigration by healthcare workers. Immigrants were providing some assistance in meeting these workforce gaps. In 2018, immigrants composed 28.2% of all doctors and surgeons, 15.3% of nurses, 19.6% of lab techs, and 25.3% of health aides. Immigrant healthcare workers are providing crucial medical assistance to patients and are filling yawning gaps in the U.S. healthcare workforce.