Senators Introduce Bill to Expand Access to Medical Green Cards
Preston Huennekens | FAIR Take | May 2020
Senators Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Todd Young (R-Ind.), David Perdue (R-Ga.), and Chris Coons (D-Del.) introduced a bill that would allocate about 40,000 unused green cards to foreign medical professionals and doctors, supposedly in an effort to fight the coronavirus. The Senators’ press release claims that the Healthcare Worker Resilience Act (HWRA) will “provide a temporary stopgap to quickly address our nation’s shortage of doctors and nurses, which poses a significant risk to our ability to effectively respond to the COVID-19 crisis.”
The bill’s intentions are noble. Parts of the United States face shortages of healthcare workers, even aside from the coronavirus pandemic. The HWRA attempts to address that by taking 40,000 unused green cards from previous years and awarding them only to healthcare workers. Specifically, these visas would go to 15,000 doctors and 25,000 nurses. The bill allows the 40,000 frontline medical workers to bring their family members as well. It is important to note that these workers and their families will receive green cards and a pathway to citizenship outside of the normal process.
The Senators are confident that their bill will gain traction in the upper house. Bruce Morrison, a lobbyist with the American Hospital Association, even said that “this is not a change that the so-called restrictionists may be concerned about.” Yet the remedy that the Senators and Morrison propose has a number of flaws. David North with the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) addressed some of those in a recent blog post:
The aliens admitted under the proposed legislation would get full immigrant status immediately even though they are not expected to apply until later this year; they would be admitted without regard to the nation-of-origin ceilings and would arrive ahead of an equal number of aliens who are patiently waiting for such visas for years, if not decades.
We may have a temporary need for a few more medical workers for the remaining months of this crisis, but if we do, why bring in people on a permanent basis to fill a temporary need?
North is not alone in his criticism of this bill. Nolan Rappaport, a former immigration law expert detailed to the House Judiciary Committee, wrote in the Hill that better alternatives exist. He proposes bringing nurses and doctors over on temporary nonimmigrant visas, allowing foreign doctors and nurses to work in the United States during this crisis without giving them full citizenship afterwards and bypassing the normal naturalization process. He writes,
We need doctors and nurses to care for hospitalized COVID-19 patients. The simplest solution would be to create a national emergency nonimmigrant visa category that would admit foreign doctors and nurses without numerical limits to work at American hospitals taking care of COVID-19 patients. This program also could be made available to doctors and nurses who are here on a restricted temporary visa. This would provide direct, immediate assistance for our hospitals that are caring for COVID -19 patients. HWRA would do neither.
The coronavirus pandemic continues to create unique situations that demand extraordinary action. This bipartisan bill comes with good intentions but may not remedy the situation at hand. Rappaport argues that this bill does not even require the benefitting doctors and staff to actually treat COVID-19 patients. That is, they could benefit from this bill and then go into a completely different medical field. That is wrong. Further, it could take months or years for doctors to arrive in the U.S. and begin working under this bill. The crisis could well be over by that point.
Immigration law history contains countless examples of well-intended policy creating unintended consequences. This bill is no different.