USCIS Ombudsman recommends expedited processing of nurse petitions
IMMIGRATION CORNER - Michael J. Gurfinkel () - February 8, 2009 - 12:00am

Noting that the “nursing shortage in the United States is becoming increasingly problematic and may adversely affect the healthcare industry,” the Ombudsman (the government official who investigates and attempts to resolve complaints and problems, as between the USCIS and the public) of the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) offered some proposals/recommendations for improving the processing of nurse visas. Among the Ombudsman’s recommendations are that USCIS:

- Separate and prioritize nurses’ green card applications, so that they can be expedited, without the requirement of a written request (from the nurse or her attorney), once the nurse’s priority date is “current”

- Centralize applications of all nurses at one designated USCIS service center, to ensure more efficient and consistent processing of nurses’ applications for green cards.

In his 11-page recommendation, the Ombudsman noted that the United States will require at least 1.2 million new RNs by 2014 to meet the nursing demand. This would include 500,000 RNs to replace RNs leaving the field, and another 700,000 to meet the growing demand for nursing care. In fact, the shortage of RNs (and increased workload for current nurses) “is a threat to the quality of patient care.” Because of the nursing shortage, facilities are unable to expand services or prepare for an emergency response. Sometimes, hospitals have been forced to close beds and wings at their hospitals due to the nursing shortage. 

The Ombudsman noted that because of the nursing crisis, in 2005 President Bush signed into law the Emergency Supplemental Appropriations Package, which provided for 50,000 unused employment-based immigrant nurse visas. As a result of that law, nurses (and their families) briefly had their own special “Schedule A” visa category, which was “current” (or visas were available). Nurses were able to receive their green cards quickly, even though the priority date for other occupations was backlogged. However, once those 50,000 visas were used up, nurses were again put back into the third preference category, where the waiting time for an immigrant visa is now about four to five years. 

The Ombudsman pointed out that the US simply cannot deal with the nursing shortage, if it takes so many years for a nurse to get his or her green card, and urged USCIS to “expedite” the processing of nurses’ green card application. In fact, the existing grounds for expediting cases would seem to apply to nurses. These grounds include, “extreme emergent situation,” “humanitarian situation,” and “compelling interest of the Service.”

The bottom line is that, for now, the Ombudsman’s report is merely a proposal or recommendation. It is not yet USCIS policy. But let us hope that USCIS recognizes the nursing crisis, and the need to do something quickly to fill nursing positions with foreign nurses (especially Filipino nurses, who are among the best in the world). Indeed, because of the long wait for green cards, many excellent nurses are migrating to other countries, such as Canada, England, Australia, etc., where the waiting time (and hassle) are much less.

Let us also hope that not only will nurses be able to obtain green cards quickly, but also all other hard working people. All of them have been waiting patiently in line, and only want to share in, and contribute towards, the “American Dream.”

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