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Proposal Aims to Speed Up Visas for Doctors to Fight Virus

April 30, 2020, 8:28 PM

New legislation from a bipartisan group of lawmakers aims to create a streamlined path for health-care workers to become lawful permanent residents in an effort to fill physician shortages during the coronavirus pandemic.

The Healthcare Workforce Resilience Act would “recapture” unused immigrant visas previously approved by Congress and allocate them to 25,000 nurses and 15,000 doctors waiting abroad or within the U.S. to help in the fight against Covid-19, according to an announcement released Thursday. The bill will be introduced next week when the Senate is back in session, a spokesperson for Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) said.

As the coronavirus cripples the health-care system in some parts of the country, providers are looking for efficient ways to replenish the ranks of health-care workers on the frontlines. Republicans and Democrats have increasingly pressured federal immigration agencies to reduce barriers foreign-born physicians and medical personnel face to provide care where it’s needed.

The legislation would allow U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to take the unused visas and issue them to nurses and doctors waiting for green cards in order of priority date. Those green cards wouldn’t be subject to per-country caps, according to a summary of the bill. Sens. Durbin, David Perdue (R-Ga.), Todd Young (R-Ind.), and Chris Coons (D-Del.) are cosponsoring the legislation.

All immigrant medical professionals receiving consideration under the bill would be required to meet licensing requirements, pay filing fees, and “clear rigorous national security and criminal history background checks” before they can receive recaptured visas, according to the summary.

Employers of medical professionals entering the U.S. from overseas would be required to attest that those workers wouldn’t displace U.S. workers, under the plan.

“It is unacceptable that thousands of doctors currently working in the U.S. 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,” Durbin said in a statement. “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.”

The American Hospital Association, American Organization for Nursing Leadership, Physicians for American Healthcare Access, Illinois Health and Hospital Association, American Immigration Lawyers Association, FWD.us, and National Immigration Forum have all endorsed the legislation.

To contact the reporter on this story: Genevieve Douglas in Washington at gdouglas@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Karl Hardy at khardy@bloomberglaw.com; Jay-Anne B. Casuga at jcasuga@bloomberglaw.com