US pauses nurse green card applications

No more applications for green cards for foreign nurses will be accepted by the State Department this year, and only applications submitted by June 2022 will be processed until the backlog eases up and more green cards are made available, according to a bulletin issued by the department April 20.

Physicians may be eligible to apply for H-1B visas, but nurses are not able to work in the U.S. before securing a green card. And in addition to exhausting the number of green cards available this year, the backlog to process already-submitted applications has slowed the number of approvals to a trickle, according to Bloomberg Law.

Current green card processing times are estimated to take 10 months. Even if more green cards are made available, as expected, by the beginning of the next fiscal year on Oct. 1, the likelihood of a new wave of immigrant nurses will not be seen until 2025.

Workforce shortages prompted many health systems throughout the United States to tap overseas nurses in recent years — a creative attempt to fill the dwindling nursing pipeline. Among them are Covenant Health's St. Mary's Health System in Lewiston, Maine, Niagara Falls (N.Y.) Memorial Hospital and Sioux Falls, S.D.-based Sanford Health

These systems report that bringing in extra hands from overseas has been helpful, but it adds challenges such as helping the nurses get acclimated not only to their surroundings but also to how U.S. hospitals function.

The green card shutdown announcement came days after the National Council of State Boards of Nursing reported 100,000 nurses left the U.S. workforce during the pandemic, and another 800,000 say they plan to exit the profession by 2027.

The American Association of International Healthcare Recruitment issued a statement calling the "catastrophic green card freeze" a "statutory throttling of international healthcare talent."

"One in six registered nurses practicing medicine today in the United States is an immigrant. American hospitals, particularly those serving rural populations, would have collapsed long ago without the contributions of international nurses," Patty Jeffrey, RN, president of the AAIHR, said in the statement.

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