Congress is reviewing a bill brought forward by Republic and Democratic Sens. Durbin, Perdue, Young, and Coons that would grant 40,000 unused green card slots to foreign healthcare workers needed to help the United States fight the coronavirus pandemic. The bill would allocate approximately 25,000 green cards to nurses and 15,000 to doctors applying to come to the U.S. or who are already present.
The bill’s purpose is to dramatically expand the U.S. healthcare workforce, which is desperately needed to face the pandemic and moving forward. It is projected the U.S. will have shortages of doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals for the next few decades.
The bill was first introduced in April 2020 but was not put up for a vote for several months. The bill would not increase the number of green cards issued but would rather reallocate unused green cards due to the Trump travel and immigration bans and provide them to healthcare workers. About 160,000 green cards are available every year, and if they aren’t used, they fall off from use. The bill would allocate those unused green cards to healthcare providers.
It is asserted that offering green cards may entice more doctors and nurses to move to the United States while also infusing the U.S. with much needed medical talent. According to Senator Perdue, the U.S. healthcare system already needs thousands of doctors and nurses – the problem was exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Sen. Perdue argues that there are thousands of qualified healthcare professionals who want to move to the United States, and this proposed bill meets those needs.
U.S. Healthcare is Dependent on Foreign-Born Workers
According to Senator Durbin, about one-sixth of the U.S. healthcare workforce is foreign-born. Immigrant doctors and nurses provide crucial care at all health system levels, from hospitals to long-term care facilities. Moreover, the United States will continue to experience shortages of healthcare workers from doctors and nurses to specialized medical professionals from hospitals to nursing facilities.
It is anticipated that as Baby Boomers continue to age, the U.S. healthcare system will continue to be stressed by workforce shortages. The domestic-born population is unable to fill these gaps, so immigration is a crucial source of workers. One study found that 71% of healthcare workers are foreign-born, as are one in four doctors.