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Congress Offers Booster Shot To Foreign Nurse Employers

by Gregory Siskind

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 of waiting.

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 workers.

While the bill will likely mean enough green cards for the next two to three years based on current demand estimates, employers of foreign nurses will likely still want to pursue further changes. Lengthy processing times for nurses are still a serious problem. Nurses lack a non-immigrant visa category and waiting times to bring nurses into the US are still typically between a year and two years.

About The Author

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

The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinion of ILW.COM.