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Coronavirus: due to shortage, the United States seeks nurses in other countries

Many hospitals in the United States are looking abroad to hire health professionalsas they are experiencing crippling nursing shortages amid the coronavirus pandemic. And it could be just in time.

This year there is an unusually high number of US resident cards (“green cards”) for foreign professionals, more than double the number a few years ago. That’s because US consulates were not granting visas for family members of US citizens and therefore law, those vacant slots are transferred to eligible workers.

Amy L. Erlbacher-Anderson, an immigration attorney in Omaha, Nebraska, says she has seen increased demand for foreign nurses in two years than in his entire 18-year career. And this year, he said, workers in that sector are more likely to receive authorization to enter the United States, as long as consulates can process all applications.

“We have double the number of visas we have had for decades,” Erlbacher-Anderson said.

A nurse applies a coronavirus vaccine. AFP Photo

“That has created a very open situation.”‘ he added.


American hospitals are overwhelmed by a shortage of nurses, after many professionals, exhausted by the pandemic, have resigned or retired.

Meanwhile, coronavirus cases continue to swing, putting the US health care system under intense pressure. Only in California, there is a lack of 40,000 nurses14% of the workforce, according to a recent report from the University of California at San Francisco.

Hospitals are trying to fill vacancies with traveling nurses, but that can be expensive. And hospital administrators say the number of nursing graduates is not enough today to fill all the vacancies.

Nurse Jorge Almeida Neri, from Portugal.  AP Photo

Nurse Jorge Almeida Neri, from Portugal. AP Photo

Some hospitals have been bringing in nurses from the Philippines, Jamaica, or other English-speaking countries, and more hospitals are joining the trend. And both old and new hospitals are trying to take advantage of the abundance of “green cards” before the end of the fiscal year, in September.

The United States typically issues at least 140,000 green cards to people who come to the country permanently to pursue certain professions.

Most are granted to people already living in the country on temporary visas, although some go to candidates abroad. This year, there are 280,000 green cards availableand health companies hope they can get some so they can hire nurses in hospitals overwhelmed by the pandemic.

The current administration in the United States, under President Joe Biden, has been trying to reverse the policies of the previous administration of Donald Trump that restricted legal immigration, and has taken measures to help foreign health workers so that they can help in the fight against the pandemic.

The Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) said that accelerate the renewal of work permits for workers in the health sector, which could allow the permanence of foreign employees who are already in the country.

The State Department last year issued instructions to the consulates to give priority to employees assigned to entities fighting the pandemicindicated an official of that agency.

From afar

Faith Akinmade, a 22-year-old nurse from Nigeria, is among those hoping for a quick fix. After going to college in the United States, Akinmade has been working as a nurse in the intensive care unit at the University Hospital of Louisville Hospital in Kentucky.

But his work permit expires in March. She points out that if it’s not approved, or if she doesn’t receive a green card, she won’t be able to stay in office.

“Right now, I have faith that at the end of March something happens that allows me to continue working”Akinmade commented.

Many hospitals in the United States can't get nurses.  AP Photo

Many hospitals in the United States can’t get nurses. AP Photo

He added that the issue affects not only foreign hospital staff but also Americans, who they will have to work extra to cover their shifts if your immigration documents are not approved.

Dr. Roxie Wells, president of Cape Fear Valley Hoke Hospital in Raeford, North Carolina, said she began trying to hire foreign staff even before the pandemic, but it wasn’t until last year that a larger number of candidates began. to have consular interviews. So far, about 150 have been approved but another 75 are missing.Wells said.

“Obviously this has become more necessary during the pandemic. If those 150 had not been approved, we would be in an extremely precarious situation,” he added.

The spread of the omicron variant in the United States has aggravated the situation in hospitals since many workers in the health sector, as in many others, have become ill with this highly contagious strain of the virus and have had to take time off work just as the number of patients increases.

Sinead Carbery, president of the nursing department at AMN Healthcare, said the demand for foreign nurses has increased in between 300% and 400% since the pandemic began.

The number of foreign nurses who can be hired in the United States, even with the rise of green cards, will not be enough to meet demand, and many hospitals are trying to find more professionals abroad because more immigration visas are available, Carbery said.

“This is a small opportunity,” Carbery said. “Because everything is flowing so smoothly, there’s a lot of competition to hire that talent.”


National Nurses United, a union representing some 175,000 nurses, has called for greater scrutiny of the recruitment of foreign nurses to ensure that those staff do not suffer from unsafe working conditions.

The union contends that US hospitals scared away nurses in the United States by having such small staffs, and that was before concerns arose about the lack of protections during the pandemic.

Michelle Mahon, deputy director of nursing practice affairs at the union, points out that many nurses sign multi-year contracts, making it difficult for them to report unsanitary conditions. She said that many hospitals where a large number of professionals resigned during the pandemic they are now looking for labor abroad.

“This kind of dynamic right now is extremely attractive to employers who haven’t taken any safety measures,” Mahon said. “Instead of solving the real problem, what they do is turn around and look for a false solution”.

Hospital administrators, however, argue that there simply aren’t enough nurses in the United States to meet demand. Patty Jeffrey, president of the American International Healthcare Recruitment Association, says the United States should expand nursing education programs domestically, while allowing more nurses to come in from abroad.

But he acknowledged that bringing in more nurses will require new legislation.

“The phone won’t stop ringing, that we need 100, that we need 200 nurses’‘ Jeffrey said.

Jorge Almeida Neri, a 26-year-old nurse from Portugal, arrived in the United States in December, although he began the process before the pandemic.

He says a mandatory nursing exam was delayed by the virus and it was another four months before he was given a consular interview, though other international nurses have had to wait even longer. He got his current job, at a Virginia hospital, about a year ago cwith the help of an employment agency.

“Once I received all the certification and started the immigration process, I thought, ‘This is going to be quick, but I was wrong,'” says Almeida Neri.

He added that many Portuguese nurses seek work abroad because salaries in their country are very low, although many choose to go to other European countries, where the procedures do not take so long.

Despite high demand, there is no guarantee that hospitals will be able to obtain the necessary visas. Greg Siskind, an immigration attorney, said consulate offices are not required to hand out visas simply because they are available, and are hampered by limits on remote work and video interviews.

He explained that most professional green cards go to people who are already in the United States, not abroad, although those could be expedited as well.

“Under current policies, if there are no changes, it will be very difficult,” Siskind said, referring to the possibility of the United States issuing all available visas, “but there are many other things they can do”.

AP Agency



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