Bill in the offing: US Green cards for immigrant medical staff – Times of India

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MUMBAI: A bill to expedite allocating green cards to immigrant doctors and nurses in the US, appears to be the right ‘treatment’ for the country, which is reeling under the Corona virus pandemic.
US relies heavily on overseas medical professionals; however tight immigration regulations have resulted in a lot of hardship in the battle against Covid-19. For instance, doctors on H-1B visas (the non-immigrant visa) could not be moved to another location, say a hospital in New York, where the situation was dire and their expertise badly needed. The reason, owing to their H-1B visa status they were tied to that particular employer and to that particular location.
Speaking on the condition of anonymity, an India-born doctor pointed out the fears faced by him and several other Indian medical professionals. “Majority of us are on H-1B visas, and are the primary visa holders. In case, we succumb to Covid-19, it is likely that our family may have to deport to India. My spouse and two minor children are on the H-4 dependent visa,” he explains.
A group of senators have recently announced that they will introduce a bipartisan legislation, ‘The Healthcare Workforce Resilience Act,’ when the Senate reconvenes on Monday. This bill proposes to recapture unused immigrant visas (green cards). 25,000 are proposed to be allocated to immigrant nurses and 15,000 to immigrant doctors. Family members would be granted green cards from the pool of remaining visas not set aside for healthcare workers.
Annually, the US sets aside only 1.40 lakh green cards for employment-based applicants and there is a 7% per-country cap. The bill proposes that country caps will not apply in the process of recapture and allocation of unused green cards and the green cards would be issued in order of priority dates. To facilitate timely action, premium processing would be available.
In other words, these medical professionals would be able to quickly adjust their immigration status to that of a lawful permanent resident (aka, a green card holder) from that of an H-1B or J-1 visa (which those participating in graduate medical training hold).
Pointing out that one-sixth of America’s health care workforce is foreign born, Dick Durbin, a Democrat Senator and co-sponsor of the bill said, “It is unacceptable that thousands of doctors currently working in the US on temporary visas are stuck in the green card backlog, putting their futures in jeopardy and limiting their ability to contribute to the fight against COVID-19.” Other sponsors of this bill, drawn from the Republican and Democratic parties are Senators David Perdue, Todd Young and Chris Coons.
“This bipartisan, targeted, and timely legislation will strengthen our health care workforce and improve health care access for Americans in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic. I encourage my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to support these vital health care workers,” added Durbin.
The immigrant medical professionals would be required to meet licensing requirements, pay required filing fees and clear the rigorous national security and criminal history background checks before they can receive recaptured green cards.
“This bill provides permanent residency and allows the immigrant physicians to fully respond to the pandemic without restrictions of work site authorization and protects their families from deportation in the eventuality of disability or death while fighting for their communities. One in four physicians are immigrants and they are the pillars of medical access in under served areas. This is a long overdue first step to streamline physician immigration to stabilize and improve health care access in America. The shortage of nurses in the frontlines would also be addressed by this bill. PAHA supports and endorses the bill,” said Physicians for American Healthcare Access, in its statement.
The bill does not propose to increase the number of immigrants, it merely reallocates a limited number of unused visas from prior years for medical professionals. As it entails ‘adjustment of status’ of those already in the US, it is also not contrary to President Trump’s recent temporary ban for green card holders. It is difficult to quantify how many Indian medical professionals will stand to benefit from this bill, but it could cover a sizeable number of doctors, state immigration attorneys.
The bill has support from a cross section of medical associations and think-tanks, including FWD.us, The Illinois Health and Hospital Association, American Hospital Association, American Organization for Nursing Leadership, Physicians for American Healthcare Access, American Immigration Lawyers Association and National Immigration Forum, among others.

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