Visa Relief Needed for RNs and Vet’s Families

At present, US medical facilities and hospitals face the certain prospect that understaffing issues will worsen as the recaptured 50,000 visas for registered nurses (RNs) physical therapists (PTs) run out.

If we let things run their course, RNs and PTs from the Philippines will eventually revert to the employment-based third preference (EB-3) category which, in the Philippines’s case is undergoing a 4-year plus retrogression. In other words, like their counterparts in the other professions like accountants, engineers or teachers, the immigrant visa process for Filipino RNs and PTs, will experience over 4 years of delay.

In the meantime, there is no relief in sight for US businesses who badly need the services of skilled professionals. H-1Bs have been running out in a few months ever since the annual quota went back to 65,000 for fiscal year 2004 notwithstanding the additional 20,000 visas for advanced degree professionals in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) professions.

Moreover, visa petitions of Filipino WW II veterans for their families are languishing in the pipeline as backlogs result in years of delay. It is a delay that these Filipino war heroes can ill afford now that they are in their twilight years.

Advocates are pinning their hope, albeit reluctantly, on the upcoming lame duck session of the 109 th Congress.

A lame duck session¬Ě refers to the session of the current Congress that takes place after the election of its successor. Those who sit in the lame duck session are the sitting members of Congress, not the newly-elected ones.

The lame duck session is usually focused on passing appropriations and budget bills for government operations. Major legislations, particularly contentious ones, are often left for the next Congress to deal with. Observers note than in cases where there is a change of guards as is anticipated now when a Republican-led Congress would likely give way to the Democrats, the lame duck session would be short and could even last for just a week.

Congress currently still has to work on 9 out of 11 pending appropriations measures, giving it very little opportunity to consider other matters. But the need for immediate relief for Schedule A workers (RNs and PTs) as well as for skilled workers or professionals (both for EB-3 and H-1B) and the delay that the Filipino WW II veterans face before they can be reunited with their families are urgent matters.

Congress will reconvene on November 13, and should it opt for a short lame duck session, advocates should be prepared to launch a strong campaign for Schedule A visas, EB-3 and H-1B relief, and expedited processing for the families of Filipino WW II veterans.

If what occurred in 2005 is any indication, we can trust that Congress will listen and act accordingly if the call for visa relief is loud and clear enough. When the EB-3 retrogression for the Philippines occurred in January 2005, the delay in the deployment of many RNs and PTs alarmed the healthcare sector whose understaffing problem began to manifest in the poor quality of patient care. By May 2005, Congress inserted the recapture of 50,000 unused visas for RNs and PTs in the tsunami emergency spending bill, thereby easing the impact of the retrogression.

The campaign for visa relief must begin in earnest soon. Various business establishments, particularly the healthcare sector, must join the campaign.

The importance of this campaign must be viewed in light of the fact that it will eventually set the tone for the intensity and vigor of the larger campaign for immigration reform that advocates will launch when the 110 th Congress buckle down to work.