Bills Introduced to Relieve Nurse Shortage

Two bills have been introduced recently in the House of Representatives aimed at relieving the nurse shortage in the United States.

HR 1929, authored by Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI), would allow for 20,000 employment-based immigrant visas annually to be issued to Registered Nurses. Family members accompanying or following to join them would also get immigrant visas immediately but these would not be counted against the 20,000 quota.

The bill also provides a process for reviewing and acting upon immigrant petitions not later than 30 days after the date of the filing.

This long overdue measure would alleviate the visa retrogression affecting nurses with pending I-140 immigrant visa petitions filed under the EB-3 category. As of the present, the EB-3 category is still tremendously oversubscribed; the priority date shown in the June 2011 visa bulletin is September 15, 2005 for most countries including the Philippines. For China, India and Mexico, the priority date is much earlier.

In order to use this special visa, the petitioning employer would be required to pay an additional fee of $1,500 for each nurse, unless the petitioner’s health care facility is located in an area affected by Hurricane Katrina or in a health professional shortage area. The fees would go into an account to fund U.S. nursing programs. No additional fee shall be paid for the dependents accompanying or following to join them.

This bill known as the Emergency Nursing Supply Relief Act was introduced on May 13, 2011, by Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) who is a hardliner when it comes to legalization measures for undocumented immigrants. He has introduced similar bills in the past but they have failed to become law.

The other new bill, HR 1933, which was introduced on May 23, 2011, proposes the revival of the H-1C program which expired in December 2009. Under this program, hospitals in health professional shortage areas are allowed to file nonimmigrant H-1C petitions for Registered Nurses. There would be allowed 300 nonimmigrant visas per year, down from 500 in the last program, which are distributed among states subject to caps based on population. The authorized period of stay under an H-1C is 3 years renewable once for an additional 3 years.

Only hospitals would be allowed to sponsor H-1C nurses, and nursing homes, clinics, health care agencies and skilled nursing facilities are excluded. In the last H-1C program, 14 hospitals were approved to file under the program and most of these hospitals were located in Texas. This bill’s proponent is Texas Republican Representative Lamar Smith, another known foe of comprehensive immigration reform.

The response of immigration advocates to these legislative developments ranges from skepticism to cautious optimism. Some believe that the bills would not get enough votes and may even be killed at the subcommittee level, either by supporters of comprehensive immigration with their “all-or-nothing” approach or by immigration hardliners.

It is not easy to predict a favorable outcome for HR 1929 and HR 1933 given the lack of success of similar proposals for immigration of professionals. However, with the next elections looming in the horizon, hopefully the Congress passes either these bills addressing certain aspects of legal immigration or comprehensive immigration reform.