On May 5, 2020, a bipartisan bill called the Healthcare Workforce Resilience Act (HWRA) was introduced into the U.S. Senate. The goal of the bill is to reduce the shortage of doctors and nurses in the United States during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. The HWRA would allow USCIS to “recapture” up to 40,000 unused immigrant visa numbers authorized by Congress between fiscal years 1992 and 2020 and grant them to qualified nurses (up to 25,000 visas) and qualified physicians (up to 15,000 visas).
Visas from the HWRA would be made available to doctors and nurses with approved I-140s who have been unable to finalize their green card applications due to backlog. Because of the annual quota of green cards allowed for foreign workers, many medical workers who have applied for a U.S. visa under the EB-3 (employment-based third preference) category can wait for years for a green card to become available. The HWRA’s “recaptured” visas would come from a pool of unused employment visas from years past and would be issued in order of priority date.
Qualified nurses and physicians would still be required to meet all licensing requirements, pay the required fees, and pass national security and criminal background checks. The sponsoring employers would also have to confirm that these new green card holders would not be displacing U.S. workers. The foreign workers’ dependents (spouse and children under 21) would also be granted immigrant visas that would not count against the 40,000 cap.
Premium processing would be available to the recipients of these visas with the intent of strengthening the U.S. healthcare workforce as soon as possible. Likewise, the bill would mandate the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of State to prioritize their visa appointments.
Uniquely, visas provided under the HWRA would be exempt from the usual per-country cap. This means that doctors and nurses from countries heavily represented on the wait list (such as India and China) would be allowed to bypass the usual backlog caused by too many people vying for too few slots.
If the bill becomes law, it would stay in effect as long as the pandemic itself. If the President were to declare an end to the country’s “national emergency” status, applicants would have 90 days from that declaration to claim a “recaptured” visa.
The bill, introduced by a group of three Republican and three Democratic U.S. senators, is still in its earliest stages. It still has to be approved by the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives and signed into law by President Donald Trump, a process that would take several months at its quickest. The White House has not indicated whether or not the President supports the bill. However, due to its bipartisan support and the urgent need for healthcare workers in the U.S. as the pandemic rages on, it is believed that the bill would serve as part of a larger legislative relief effort to help Americans during the crisis.