Congress Offers Booster Shot To Foreign Nurse Employers
One of the unintended consequences of the tech boom of the
late 1990s and early part of this decade was the creation of a backlog in visa
applications for foreign nurses. Nurses can only enter the US on the EB-3 green
card category – the same category used by technology workers. Congress raised
the H-1B cap to accommodate the need for more tech workers, but never raised the
corresponding green card quotas.
The surge in green card demand that resulted form all of
the extra H-1B technology workers finally came to a breaking point at the
beginning of this year when the State Department was forced to roll back
processing dates – “priority dates” – for workers from the Philippines,
China and India. More than 90% of foreign nurses seeking to come to the US are
from these three countries. Starting this past January, only applications filed
before 2002 were being processed. Most nurses would face an additional two years
Facing a dramatically severe shortage of nurses in the
country and the sudden prospect of 1000s of nurses not arriving to fill
positions at hospitals and nursing homes across the US, Congress acted by
freeing up 50,000 green cards that failed to get used over the past four years.
Those were visas that might have been issued but since there was no provision
for the numbers to roll forward to the next year, they were wasted.
As part of the Tsunami/Iraq spending bill Congress is set
to pass this week, Congress extended a provision in the American Competitiveness
in the 21st Century Act of 2000 that allowed unused employment-based
green cards from 1999 and 2000 to be reclaimed for later years. The new law
allows for the continuation of this practice for the years 2001 through 2004 as
long as the numbers are allocated for nurses and physical therapists (Department
of Labor Schedule A occupations) and
as long as the number used does not exceed 50,000.
The green cards should become available immediately after
President Bush signs the bill next week, but it is not clear how quickly
consulates will move to issue the approvals. The bill is not quite as generous
as an earlier version approved in the Senate that would have allowed all 140,000
of the potentially available unused green cards to be reclaimed. Half would have
been available to nurses and the rest would have been available to all other
Gregory Siskind is a partner in Siskind Susser's Memphis, Tennessee, office. After graduating magna cum laude from Vanderbilt University, he received his Juris Doctorate from the University of Chicago. Mr. Siskind is a member of AILA, a board member of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, and a member of the ABA, where he serves on the LPM Publishing Board as Marketing Vice Chairman. He is the author of several books, including the J Visa Guidebook and The Lawyer's Guide to Marketing on the Internet. Mr. Siskind practices all areas of immigration law, specializing in immigration matters of the health care and technology industries. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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