By Atty. Reuben S. Seguritan
The Covid-19 pandemic has affected the United States greatly. There are over 1.4 million confirmed cases, with close to 85,000 deaths. More cases are expected in the coming weeks when many states will lift lockdown orders and allow their residents to go back to work and allow businesses to begin again. There are guidelines such as masks must always be worn; everyone must stay at least 6 feet apart from each other; and hands must be washed frequently with soap and water and for at least 20 seconds. New confirmed cases are also expected because of the availability of covid-19 tests across the country.
The situation with the covid-19 has highlighted the lack of doctors and nurses in America to deal with the millions of covid-19 patients and other sick people. The situation has become so dire that New York for example, has called on retired doctors and nurses to go back to work and approved the early graduation of physicians in March of this year so they can start working in the hospitals.
The insufficient number of medical professionals in the US was not helped when President Trump announced that effective on April 23, 2020, the US was suspending for 60 days the entry of any person seeking to enter as an immigrant. The American Medical Association (AMA), the largest association of US physicians, asked the government to exempt foreign medical workers from any immigration bans because they are essential to the fight against the covid-19 pandemic. They asked that international medical graduates who are in the US on J-1 student visas, H-1B specialty work visas, and O-1 extraordinary ability visas be exempted from immigration bans and allowed to maintain their lawful non-immigrant status while treating covid-19 patients. They further asked that foreign students who have approved and scheduled residencies in the US be granted expedited processing in the US consulates abroad.
The public is aware of the risks that doctors and nurses face on a daily basis because of the covid-19 pandemic. In many places in America, people cheer and clap every 7pm to honor the healthcare workers. Different organizations and groups have donated protective gear such as masks and gloves, food and free transportation for healthcare workers. More than 9,000 US healthcare workers are confirmed to have covid-19 and more than 27 of them have died. Something must be done to help address the covid-19 pandemic.
Congress has realized the dire need of the US for foreign doctors and nurses to fight the covid-19 pandemic. There is a pending Senate bill entitled “Healthcare Workforce Resilience Act”. There is also a companion bill in the House of Representatives. The Senate bill is bipartisan and introduced by Senators David Perdue, Richard Durbin, Todd Young, Chris Coons, John Cornyn and Patrick Leahy. The Senate bill aims to bring to the US foreign physicians and nurses who are ready, willing, available and approved to work permanently in the US but have not done so because of the lack of visa number availability or delays by the government agencies. Currently, one-sixth of the medical workforce in the United States is foreign born.
The Senate bill will give green cards or lawful permanent resident status to foreign nurses and physicians by distributing 40,000 unused immigrant visas from previous years. Both foreign physicians and nurses currently in the US under non-immigrant visas or are abroad and with approved petitions can be granted the green cards. The per-country cap on the number of green cards that can be granted will be disregarded. The bill further requires that employers will attest that immigrants from overseas who receive these visas will not displace American workers. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the State Department are required to expedite the processing of these recaptured unused visas. The doctors and nurses still have to meet licensing requirements, pay the required fees, pass background checks and submit other requirements in order to be granted the lawful permanent resident status.
The Healthcare Workforce Resilience Act should be passed now to bring needed doctors and nurses to the US. More nurses and doctors are needed to treat the increasing number of infected people. Until a vaccine is developed and approved for mass production against covid-19, the country will continue to suffer because of the lack of doctors and nurses.
REUBEN S. SEGURITAN has been practicing law for over 30 years. For further information, you may call him at (212) 695 5281 or log on to his website at www.seguritan.com