US Visa Retrogression Halts Entry of Thousands of Qualified International Nurses, Jeopardizing American Healthcare

The American Association of International Healthcare Recruitment has issued a response to the State Department’s May Visa Bulletin, which has caused a catastrophic freeze for green cards for international nurses. This freeze has come at a time when hospitals are struggling to find enough staff to deal with the pandemic’s impact.

According to the new visa bulletin, only those nurses who filed their green card petitions before June 2022 will be able to proceed with their green card interviews. All other international nurses’ green card petitions will be put on hold, leading to thousands of qualified nurses being barred from entering the US.

As a result, the international talent pipeline, which is essential to the American healthcare system, is experiencing a catastrophic interruption. One in six registered nurses practicing in the United States is an immigrant. Without the contributions of international nurses, many hospitals, particularly those serving rural populations, would have collapsed a long time ago.

The current visa quota has not changed since 1990, and the State Department publishes a monthly report of the available number of immigrant visas, including the employment-based category. The latest Bulletin reported that the priority dates for several visa categories, including the EB-3 subcategory, are retrogressed due to rising demand. This retrogression is expected to increase, meaning that nurses who petition this summer may not be able to enter the US until 2025 at the earliest.

To address this issue, a group of bipartisan US senators introduced the Healthcare Workforce Resilience Act last Congress, which would have recaptured and reallocated thousands of previously issued but unused immigrant visas for nurses. The bill was supported by several prominent healthcare organizations, including the American Hospital Association, the American Medical Association, and the National Rural Health Association. If passed, this bill would not create any new visas but would recapture old ones that have been unused due to bureaucratic inefficiency, thereby solving the State Department’s visa retrogression.

In conclusion, the freeze on green cards for international nurses is a catastrophic interruption of the stable flow of healthcare talent to the bedside, and it will be felt acutely by ordinary patients, from pregnant mothers to dialysis patients. The Healthcare Workforce Resilience Act could provide a solution to this problem, but until then, hospitals and patients alike will continue to suffer.