To Relieve Healthcare Workers Shortage, Congress Considers Recapturing Unused Visas

Jackson Lewis P.C.

The Healthcare Workforce Resilience Act (HWRA) has been introduced in the Senate again. The bill would recapture 15,000 immigrant visas for doctors and 25,000 for nurses.

The bill has bipartisan support. Introduced by Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL), John Cornyn (R-TX), Todd Young (R-IN), Chris Coons (D-DE), and Susan Collins (R-ME), the bill focuses on starting to eliminate the shortage of healthcare workers in the United States that has become more apparent during the COVID-19 pandemic. Providing immigrant visas to doctors and nurses would not only be an attractive incentive to those overseas, but to those already in the United States because they would no longer be restricted by the geographic scope of their nonimmigrant visas. That limitation and questions about telehealth continue to be obstacles to deploying medical assistance where needed during spikes in COVID-19 cases across the country.

At the introduction of the bill, Senator Collins said, “By issuing unused employment-based visas to immigrant medical professionals, this bipartisan legislation would help strengthen our health care workforce and preserve access to care, particularly in rural and underserved communities in Maine and across our country.” If the bill passes as proposed, the filing period for the unused visas would end 90 days after the termination of the COVID-19 emergency declaration.

Under its provisions, the bill:

  • Recaptures unused visas for doctors, nurses, and their families;
  • Exempts the recaptured visas from country caps;
  • Requires employers to attest that no United States workers will be displaced by those petitioning for the visas; and
  • Requires no-fee expedited processing.

This bill has been introduced before, but might have even more force now because the idea of recapturing unused visas has been proposed by President Joe Biden in his U.S. Citizenship Act. Visas often go unused due to the mistakes in counting and administrative delays and errors – some, but not all, unused visas have been recaptured in the past by legislation.

The HWRA is supported by many organizations, including physicians groups (such as the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Family Physicians, and the American Academy of Pediatrics), nursing associations (such as the American Organization for Nursing Leadership), the National Rural Health Association, as well as the American Immigration Lawyers Association and the American Business Immigration Coalition.

The bill will be introduced into the House of Representatives, also on a bipartisan basis, by Representatives Brad Schneider (D-IL), Tom Cole (R-OK), Tom O’Halleran (D-AZ), and Don Bacon (R-NE).

Jackson Lewis attorneys will follow the progress of the bill and provide updates as they become available.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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