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Potential Backlog Threatens International Nurse Recruitment in the United States

The United States is facing a potential slowdown in the influx of international nurses due to a backlog of green card petitions at the State Department. The department’s recent announcement of a revised cut-off date for visa eligibility, limiting applications to those filed before June 1, 2022, has raised concerns among health groups. The nursing workforce, already strained by post-Covid staffing shortages, may face significant challenges as a result.

The shortage of nurses can have far-reaching effects beyond hospitals, impacting nursing homes, assisted living facilities, and hospice care. This situation may lead to increased costs and delayed care for elderly and terminally ill individuals. With approximately 100,000 registered nurses leaving the workforce during the pandemic and an additional 600,000 expected to follow by 2027, the United States is projected to face a shortage of over 200,000 nurses in the coming years.

International nurses have played a vital role in mitigating staffing shortages, with foreign workers comprising about 15 percent of the nursing workforce, a figure that has nearly doubled over the last decade. However, the State Department’s freeze on green card petitions filed within the past year poses a significant obstacle for health systems already grappling with workforce crises. The American Association of International Healthcare Recruitment estimates that two-thirds of the international nurses in their pipeline for entry into the U.S. this year may be unable to immigrate due to the freeze.

The backlog is a consequence of higher-than-expected demand for employment-based visas in the EB-3 subcategory, which encompasses occupations requiring at least an associate’s degree. Nurses are now queued alongside IT workers and engineers, creating delays as applications exceed visa availability. The annual limit of 40,000 green cards for this fiscal year is nearly exhausted, and even after the reset in October, a cut-off date for eligibility is anticipated due to high demand.

This situation has prompted health groups to advocate for changes through congressional action. They support the reintroduction of The Health Care Workforce Resilience Act, a bipartisan bill aimed at recapturing unused visas from the previous year for nurses and doctors. Additionally, a temporary visa option exclusively for registered nurses and healthcare professionals has been proposed, allowing them to work while awaiting permanent residency approval.

Addressing the nursing shortage is crucial, given the growing aging population and the increasing need for healthcare services. Policy changes that treat healthcare workers on par with other professions, such as the tech industry, could stimulate the supply of nurses and ensure their timely entry into the workforce.

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