Hospitals & Facilities

International nurses hit by visa processing delays

Employer-sponsored green card petitions filed after June 1, 2022, are put on hold.
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Healthcare facilities that have recruited international nurses to offset existing shortages may have to wait even longer for those workers to arrive in the US—potentially up to 18 months—due to federal visa priority dates announced this month.

The State Department announced in its May 2023 Visa Bulletin that only nurses who had filed employment-based green card petitions (EB-3 subcategory) before June 1, 2022, can proceed with green card interviews at this time due to high demand, thus halting petitions filed after that date. The agency did not have such a restriction in its April bulletin.

The freeze, which is expected to affect thousands of international nurses, comes as hospitals and health systems across the US struggle to fill tens of thousands of open nursing positions in wake of Covid-19-related burnout and staff departures.

Patty Jeffrey, president of the American Association of International Healthcare Recruitment (AAIHR), told Healthcare Brew that nurses with priority dates after June 1, 2022, are “stuck”—including those who are fully licensed in the US, have passed English fluency exams, and been otherwise vetted—because of the freeze.

“The implications of this, in a critical nursing shortage, are that these nurses impacted by this retrogression […] and the ones that would have immediately been coming in will now not be coming to their hospital until the dates progress forward,” she said. “It’s a delay in getting them full-time, core staff that they are dependent on.”

That means hospitals or healthcare facilities could be forced to rely on travel nurses, who commanded high pay during the pandemic due to staffing shortages. That’s on top of what systems spend to sponsor international nurse visas, which Jeffrey said can total “anywhere between $15,000 and $20,000 per individual.”

Eric Wallis, SVP and chief nursing officer at Henry Ford Health, said in a statement that the visa freeze “is not unexpected, but it is painful” for hospitals and organizations across the country that are seeking to stabilize their nursing workforces. Henry Ford Health announced plans in September 2021 to bring in 500 nurses from the Philippines as part of a multiyear effort.

“We had hoped to begin welcoming groups of international recruits this summer,” Wallis said. “Right now we’re concerned that the process could be on hold until at least October.”

It’s unclear how long the freeze will stay in place, even as McKinsey analysts predict that the US could see a gap of 200,000 to 450,000 nurses for direct patient care by 2025. State Department officials did not immediately respond to Healthcare Brew’s request for comment.

Chris Musillo, an immigration attorney and managing partner at Cincinnati-based law firm Musillo Unkenholt, said the halt on petitions filed after June 1, 2022, could remain in effect for months and push the already lengthy visa process back even further.

“Any case that’s filed now, what we’re really saying is, ‘They’re not even going to be eligible until at least 2024.’ Then they’re going to be behind all of the cases from June 2022, then July 2022, and so on down the line,” he told Healthcare Brew. “We put all that together and we look at something like an 18ish-month process.”

Given that potential timeline, AAIHR and its members are calling on Congress to pass legislation, like the “Healthcare Workforce Resilience Act” introduced in 2021, that would allow federal immigration officials to “recapture and reallocate 25,000 previously issued but unused, immigrant visas” for international nurses.

“This is the only option,” said Musillo, who works with AAIHR.

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