Thousands Of Nurses Overseas Awaiting Visa Processing As Hospitals Struggle To Staff Beds

Immigrant nurses have been essential to healthcare delivery in the United States for more than 70 years, helping to maintain a delicate staffing balance in the face of an ever-widening bedside clinician gap. 

But historic burnoutsimmering vaccine hesitancy, and Baby Boomer retirements have blown a massive hole in patient care—making immigrant nurses more needed than ever.

Unfortunately, a tier visa processing scheme that placed nurses at the end of a very long, very slow-moving line has prevented thousands of nurses from completing their years-long immigration process. AAIHR President Patty Jeffrey joined NBC News to explain the consular delays and why the US State Department must correct the issue lest ordinary patients—everyone from those suffering from severe cases of disease with covid to pregnant mothers and dialysis patients—suffer.


Elsewhere in the news, Jeffrey spoke to the Associated Press about the crisis

“With American hospitals facing a dire shortage of nurses amid a slogging pandemic, many are looking abroad for health care workers. … 

Amy L. Erlbacher-Anderson, an immigration attorney in Omaha, Nebraska, said she has seen more demand for foreign nurses in two years than the rest of her 18-year career. And this year, she said, it’s more likely they’ll get approved to come, so long as U.S. consular offices can process all the applications. … 

U.S. hospitals are struggling with a shortage of nurses that worsened as pandemic burnout led many to retire or leave their jobs. Meanwhile, coronavirus cases continue to rise and fall, placing tremendous pressure on the health care system. In California alone, there’s an estimated gap of 40,000 nurses, or 14% of the workforce, according to a recent report by the University of California, San Francisco. … 

Hospital administrators, however, contend there simply aren’t enough U.S.-trained nurses to go around. Patty Jeffrey, president of the American Association of International Healthcare Recruitment, said the United States should expand nursing education programs to train more nurses domestically, as well as let more nurses come in from overseas. But she acknowledged bringing in a much larger number of nurses would require legislation.

‘The calls are every day ringing off the hook: We need 100, we need 200, we need all these nurses,’ Jeffrey said.

Jorge Almeida Neri, a 26-year-old nurse from Portugal, arrived in the United States late last year, though he began the process before the pandemic. He said a required international nursing exam was delayed due to the virus and it took four months to get a consular interview, though other international nurses he’s met waited much longer. He interviewed for his current job at a Virginia hospital, which he got through a staffing agency, about a year ago.

‘After getting everything certified, the immigration process started, and I was like, ‘Oh, this is going to be quick.’ I was wrong,’ he said.”