Immigration Can Save Lives During America's COVID-19 Crisis

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  • The USNS Comfort medical ship moves up the Hudson [+]
    In New York and elsewhere across America, physicians and nurses are


    The USNS Comfort medical ship moves up the Hudson [+]
    In New York and elsewhere across America, physicians and nurses are overwhelmed with patients suffering from COVID-19.

    “Nurses Die, Doctors Sick and Panic Rises on Virus Front Lines,” read a recent headline in the New York Times.

    Relaxed immigration policies could provide a vital boost to efforts to save American lives, according to analysts.

    limitations today that would prevent a foreign physician from

    physician exempt from that limit.

    Academic medical centers and nonprofit teaching hospitals are exempt from the H-1B cap, while many community hospitals and other healthcare organizations are not.

    Foreign physicians also face restrictions under the immigration laws.

    For example, even though most states will give a physician licensed in Canada a medical license in their state, the immigration regulations require additional tests – the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE).

    During the crisis, the exams had to be canceled because they must be offered in-person.

    Anderson: What are the practical obstacles for foreign nurses?

    Stock: Nurses face even stricter limits than physicians, as most nursing positions are not eligible for the temporary H-1B visa.

    As such, employers needing nurses need to sponsor them directly for permanent residence, a process that takes 18 months minimum under normal circumstances.

    In addition, strict limits on the number of skills-based immigrants (employment-based green cards) per year the United States have created a -long quota backlog, meaning many nurses would take three years or more to be able to get to the front of the line and be able to immigrate.

    Anderson: What are the issues facing foreign doctors currently working in the United States to go work in New York City or another area with an urgent need for doctors?

    Stock: Doctors on H-1B visas are restricted to working for the particular employer who sponsored their visa, and even that employer cannot send the physician to work in a different area of employment without complying with Department of Labor regulations.


    Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) issued a binding precedent that merely changing an employee’s location requires a whole new H-1B filing, meaning that a physician would face major bureaucratic hurdles to change locations in response to the current crisis.

    Anderson: Aren’t there foreign physicians who are treating American COVID-19 patients right are stuck in such long backlogs they may never receive a green card? Wouldn’t it be reasonable to help these physicians secure green cards (permanent residence) and if they die fighting to save American patients to guarantee help for their surviving family members?

    Stock: You’re correct that thousands of physicians from India are currently trapped in immigration limbo, waiting for ten years or more for their “place in line” to be reached due to green card quotas.

    During that time, they continue to be on temporary visas, and their family members’ status is dependent on their status.

    If one of those physicians becomes infected treating patients and passes away, the family will be left without immigration status.

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