Visa suspension worsens nurse shortage in the United States and bill aims to add 25,000 EB-3s annually

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Limited numbers of green cards for foreign-educated nurses are restricting a possible solution to the severe shortage of healthcare workers in the United States.

Why this matters: As exhausted nurses leave the profession, many hospitals and nursing homes have sought to recruit nurses from abroad to help fill vacancies estimated at nearly 200,000 per year.

However, the backlog of visa applications has delayed the flow of international nurses, who represent 16% of the country’s nursing workforce.

Because of the visa bulletin, only those who applied for green cards before December 2021 will be eligible for visa interviews in the next three months.

More than 10,000 foreign nurses are affected by the current situation, said Chris Musillo, general counsel for the American Association for International Healthcare Recruiting.

About 40,000 of these (EB-3) visas are available each year — a limit that has remained unchanged since the category was created in 1990.

“The backlog is only getting more and more serious as we go forward,” said Megan Cundari, senior director of federal relations at the American Hospital Association. “We can’t bring people in fast enough to fill the deficit we already have” in the nursing workforce, she said.

A few years ago, nurses from certain countries could begin working in the U.S. within 18 months of starting the green card process, she said. Now, the process takes about two and a half years. A broad coalition of health lobbies, including the AHA and the American Nursing Leadership Organization, is supporting a bipartisan bill that would open 25,000 employment-based visas to nurses by reclaiming unused green cards.