The State Department recently announced that it would not be accepting any more EB-3 visa applications for foreign nurses this year due to an administrative backlog. This has left thousands of international nurses and other healthcare professionals around the country in limbo and without a clear direction.
While the decision was actually announced in April, there have been no changes, and foreign nurses and hospitals are left scrambling. It’s long been reported the nursing shortage in the U.S. is dire and only worsened during COVID. Healthcare systems tried to fill the voids with foreign-educated nurses.
For example, a recent report from the Kansas Hospital Association (KHA) found that 21% of registered nursing jobs in the state went unfilled. “Just to kind of put that in perspective, we need four nurses on a unit,” said Cindy Samuelson with the KHA. “If we’re thinking of percentages 25%, that means we only have three.”
It’s easy to say that COVID is the reason for the severe nursing shortage, but the truth is other factors such as retirement, burnout, and the increased demand for healthcare have all contributed to the ongoing shortage. Hospitals have had to find unique ways to fill the voids and foreign nurses were a reasonable solution.
Some may argue this is not ideal, or even a realistic long-term solution; however, it does fill vacancies, help with short staffing, and improve the quality of care provided to patients on any given unit. Stormont Vail Health System in Topeka, Kansas has 100 nurses set to start in the fall after recruitment efforts. Unfortunately, as of right now, they will not be permitted to start because of the halt on visas.
“We were shocked and disappointed. Nobody anticipated that,” said International Recruitment Manager Tiffany Beyer. The worst part? It’s unclear how long the delays will be with some being told visa applications will restart in 2024 and others heard 2025.
Not only are the hospitals and the nurses in limbo, but current staff are becoming frustrated with the delays. Jobs have been promised to nurses to help alleviate the patient loads and provided more coverage but there is no start date in sight.
At Henry Ford Health in Detroit, Eric Wallis DNP, RN, senior vice president, and chief nursing officer indicated that more than 400 international nurses have accepted jobs within the healthcare system. Their visas are currently stalled leaving the positions vacated. The larger issue is hospitals are not able or unwilling to fill these positions with local nurses as there have already been contracts written and offers extended.
“They can open up additional EB3 visas, just for nurses,” said Wallis. “And that’s really what we have advocated for is to be a little more surgical in that approach.”