A large number of Indian nurses and doctors aiming to work abroad are expected to benefit from the proposed legislation in the US Congress which, if passed, will permit the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to issue 40,000 visas to foreign health workers.

The proposed legislation — the Healthcare Workforce Resilience Act (HWRA) — serves to temporarily address the shortage of medical practitioners to help combat the Covid-19 crisis in the US.

In practice, it would permit the USCIS to issue 40,000 immigrant visas for qualified candidates, mainly nurses (25,000 visas) and physicians (15,000 visas). The latest version of the Bill also consists of provisions to expedite the processing of temporary work visas and immigrant visas for healthcare workers applying for jobs from abroad.

Need for licence

Doctors will need a relevant licence to practice in the US though such a condition may not be necessary for nurses.

The HWRA will not subject applicants to “per-country” limitations. This is significant because there is a lengthy backlog of candidates, depending on their country of origin. Due to the per-country clause, Indian nationals currently face processing delays of up to 10 years.

Under the proposed legislation, 40,000 visas will become immediately available to those who are currently waiting in the Green Card process. Visas will effectively be issued in the order of the applicant’s priority date (i.e. the longer an applicant has been waiting, the higher their priority).

“In practice, many Indian doctors and nurses moving to the US are forced to leave their profession due to complex restrictions surrounding immigration and medical licensing. This new piece of legislation will simplify matters for a temporary period,” David Cantor, Head of Foreign Medical Professional Practice Group, Davies & Associates, told BusinessLine .

Cantor said salaries for nurses and doctors are entirely dependent on the employer and the proposed position within the US. If a labour certification process is required for the visa, there is no indication that the regulations would be changed because of the proposed Bill.

The proposed legislation requires the applicant to go through the I-140 immigrant petition process. This procedure provides a pathway for permanent residency in the US and permits the candidate to obtain a Green Card. “It is important to note that the Healthcare Workforce Resilience Act will go through a series of reviews where content and provisions are subject to modification,” Cantor pointed out.

Application process

The applicant applying from abroad (i.e. through a US consulate) must have an employer sponsor in the US. A letter must be issued by the potential employer, and clearly demonstrate that this position will not displace any American worker.

It is important to note that immigration matters are separate from medical licensure. In order to effectively practise medicine in the US, a medical professional must have the requisite licence to practice – the licensure process varies from state to state and areas of practice (i.e. general medicine vs nurse practitioner).

Therefore, if an applicant wishes to practise as a doctor or nurse within the US, he/she will need to have the relevant US medical licence. The licensure requirements may not apply to other healthcare-related positions that are also essential for battling the pandemic.