Reps. Schneider, Cole, Finkenauer, Bacon Introduce Bipartisan Legislation to Strengthen Health Workforce Amid COVID-19 Pandemic

May 8, 2020
Press Release
Healthcare Workforce Resilience Act would reallocate 40,000 additional visas for doctors and nurses to practice in U.S.

As the U.S. faces the unprecedented public health crisis posed by the coronavirus, Reps. Brad Schneider (D-IL), Tom Cole (R-OK), Abby Finkenauer (D-IA), and Don Bacon (R-NE) introduced bipartisan legislation to support visas for foreign-born doctors currently serving among the American healthcare workforce and additional visas for foreign-born nurses to come serve in the U.S. 

The Healthcare Workforce Resilience Act would reallocate visas previously authorized by Congress that have not currently been used. Of these, 15,000 visas would be reallocated for foreign-born physicians and 25,000 visas for foreign-born nurses. This legislation would ensure durable immigration status for this vital workforce while meeting the demands posed by the current public health crisis. This legislation serves as the House companion to S.3599 introduced by Sens. Perdue, Durbin, Young, Coons, Leahy, and Cornyn earlier this week.

“Many of our communities have been facing a critical shortage of nurses, doctors and other qualified health care workers for a long time, and the Covid-19 pandemic has greatly exacerbated the problem,” said Rep. Schneider. “Immigrant nurses and doctors have long been an integral part of our health care system, and during this public health crisis, these highly trained, dedicated health professionals can make a life-saving difference. I am proud to introduce this legislation to enable more qualified physicians and nurses to meet the needs of our communities. The strong bipartisan, bicameral support for this bill shows it is a common sense response to the Covid-19 pandemic, and I urge all my colleagues to join us in this effort.”

“Oklahoma has the fourth largest shortage of doctors in the nation as well as a nurse shortage well above the national average,” said Rep. Cole. “While we combat a national health crisis and could expect a second wave of COVID-19 cases coming soon, it is important that we take the necessary steps to ensure we are equipped to provide care in rural areas. I am proud to join my colleagues in introducing this important legislation.”

“We need all hands on deck to address this generational crisis,” said Rep. Finkenauer. “We know this virus will not magically disappear, and experts like Dr. Anthony Fauci are warning of a second wave this fall. Rural areas, which make up much of my district, remain especially vulnerable and are already experiencing a shortage of medical professionals. I am proud to join Reps. Schneider, Cole, and Bacon on a bill that could immediately send medical reinforcements to areas where they are needed most.”

“This common-sense legislation will allow those healthcare workers who are legally here to continue to serve our communities when they are needed most during this pandemic,” said Rep. Bacon. “I’m thankful to join my colleagues in introducing this bipartisan legislation that will simply reallocate already authorized visas, that are not being used.”

“The growing shortage of doctors and nurses over the past decade has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 crisis,” said Senator Perdue. “Fortunately, there are thousands of trained health professionals who want to practice in the United States. This proposal would simply reallocate a limited number of unused visas from prior years for doctors and nurses who are qualified to help in our fight against COVID-19. This shortage is critical and needs immediate attention so that our healthcare facilities are not overwhelmed in this crisis.”

“Consider this: one-sixth of our health care workforce is foreign-born. Immigrant nurses and doctors play a vital role in our health care system, and their contributions are now more crucial than ever. Where would we be in this pandemic without them?” said Senator Durbin.  “This bipartisan, targeted, and timely legislation will strengthen our health care workforce and improve health care access for Americans in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. I encourage my colleagues in both chambers and on both sides of the aisle to support these vital health care workers.”

Individuals approved for visas under this legislation would still be required to meet the licensing requirements, pay required filing fees, and clear rigorous national security and criminal history background checks before they are eligible to receive recaptured green cards. Employers of these medical professionals would also need to attest that the immigrant medical professional has not displaced and will not displace an American worker.

“Physicians fighting COVID-19 are eager to hear these words: Reinforcements are on the way. Recapturing 15,000 unused immigrant visas for physicians through the Healthcare Workforce Resilience Act would ease the burden on frontline physicians who are risking their lives in understaffed hospitals,” said Patrice A. Harris, M.D., President of the American Medical Association. “This bipartisan legislation recognizes the physician shortage that existed before the pandemic and is getting more severe while the need for caregivers is growing daily.”

“On behalf of our nearly 5,000 member hospitals, health systems and other health care organizations, our clinician partners – including more than 270,000 physicians, 2 million nurses, 9,800 nurse leaders and other caregivers – and the 43,000 health care leaders who belong to our professional membership groups, the American Hospital Association (AHA) and the American Organization for Nursing Leadership (AONL) are writing to strongly support the Healthcare Workforce Resilience Act,” the organization wrote in a recent letter supporting the legislation. “There has never been a more urgent need for the care that foreign-born physicians and foreign-trained nurses provide than during the current COVID-19 pandemic. These professionals play a critical role in ensuring the health of our communities.”

"By allowing nurses and physicians to access unused immigrant visas, this legislation will deliver help to the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic and also takes an important step to address the critical shortage of nurses and physicians we face in Illinois," said Illinois Hospital Association President and CEO A.J. Wilhelmi. “IHA strongly supports this legislation and applauds Rep. Schneider's action to ensure all Illinoisans have access to healthcare, especially as we respond to this public health emergency.”

“The Healthcare Workforce Resilience Act is a commonsense answer to urgent workforce needs at essential hospitals during the COVID-19 crisis,” said Dr. Bruce Siegel, President and CEO of America’s Essential Hospitals. “We thank Reps. Schneider, Cole, Finkenauer, and Bacon, and their Senate counterparts for this bipartisan commitment to front-line providers and the public’s health.”

Physicians for American Healthcare Access (PAHA) stated that PAHA “welcomes and endorses the initiative taken by Reps Schneider, Cole, Finkenauer and Bacon to empower the US trained immigrant physicians already working here.  Eliminating restrictions on these physicians fighting in the front lines will instantly expand the workforce. Even before the COVID pandemic, United States faced a daunting shortage of doctors, particularly in rural areas (shortage of 120,000 physicians in the US by 2032). The COVID-19 pandemic has shattered the communities and has aggravated the problem of physician access . International physicians often in the underserved areas enhance healthcare access and are a force for local economy and employment. Our communities have welcomed these doctors and long cherished the benefits. This bill if legislated would be one of the most important interventions to rebuilding the country in the long term.”

The Bipartisan Policy Center Action stated that, “the COVID-19 pandemic has tested our country and our citizens in a variety of ways. As we look to response and recovery, a rightful area of focus has been on the healthcare sector, specifically the healthcare workforce, and ensuring that we have appropriate staffing to respond to the demands of the COVID-19 crisis. BPC Action applauds the work of Representatives Schneider, Cole, Finkenauer, and Bacon, whose legislation, the Healthcare Workforce Resilience Act, seeks to expand the healthcare workforce by recapturing previously unused visas to allow the entry of nurses and physicians into the U.S. These unprecedented times demand swift and responsive actions by Congress to address the labor shortages currently facing the healthcare sector – the Healthcare Workforce Resilience Act seeks to address that challenge, and we support its passage.”

The National Immigration Forum stated that, “the Healthcare Workforce Resilience Act recognizes the value of immigrants and immigration to the nation by helping doctors, nurses, and their families immigrate sooner, including those who have been waiting in line for years. This bill addresses a workforce need, reduces the immigration backlog, and honors family unity. By ensuring unused visas do not go to waste, this bill provides a practical, targeted solution to a problem that COVID-19 made even more pressing. Addressing shortages in the health care workforce is imperative at this time.”

The American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) stated that, “AILA commends Representatives Schneider, Cole, Finkenauer and Bacon for reaching across the aisle to introduce an important bill that would help address the critical healthcare shortage in the United States, a flaw in our system that has been further exacerbated during the COVID-19 national emergency.  International physicians and nurses who are willing and able to fill health care staffing shortages often have to wait years, if not decades, before they can permanently work in the United States.  The Healthcare Workforce Resilience Act would be an important first step toward ensuring that our nation’s health care needs are met by qualified physicians and nurses in a timely manner, benefiting all of us.”

“The Chamber commends Reps. Schneider, Cole, Finkenauer, and Bacon for their unique, bipartisan approach to address this critical workforce need in our nation’s healthcare system. By recapturing previously unused immigrant visas, the Healthcare Workforce Resilience Act would expedite the provision of lawful permanent residency to many foreign national doctors and nurses across the country,” said Neil Bradley, Executive Vice President and Chief Policy Officer at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. “At this critical juncture in our nation’s battle against COVID-19, our nation needs these healthcare professionals to focus on the health and well-being of our fellow Americans who are their patients, and this bill will help them in their efforts to fight this disease and save American lives.”

“Immigrants are courageously filling millions of critical roles as frontline essential workers combatting the COVID-19 crisis, and the Healthcare Workforce Resilience Act will allow tens of thousands more to join the effort and save countless American lives. This vital legislation ensures doctors and nurses with specialized training can have their permanent residency expedited through our immigration system so they can treat U.S. patients,” said President Todd Schulte. “We commend Representatives Schneider, Cole, Finkenauer and Bacon for working on a smart bipartisan approach that will strengthen our healthcare workforce in the midst of a public health emergency. We urge lawmakers to continue enacting sensible immigration policy reforms like the Healthcare Workforce Resilience Act that protect and improve legal immigration avenues.”

Click here for text of the legislation.

Click here for a summary of the legislation.

Click here for a section-by-section summary of the legislation.