Covid-19: US bill to fast track green cards for healthcare workers

Legislation may help Indian origin doctors, nurses bearing brunt of  pandemic.

Amid the healthcare crisis of the century, Indian origin doctors and nurses and other foreign medical professionals fighting the coronavirus pandemic at its epicenter in the US, have a bit of cheer.

A bipartisan bill has been introduced in the US House of Representatives and the Senate to grant previously approved but unused green cards to thousands of trained doctors and nurses to help with the covid-19 crisis.

The Healthcare Workforce Resilience Act is likely to help Indian origin doctors and nurses who are bearing the brunt of the pandemic in the worst affected nation with 1.32 million cases and over 78,200 deaths to date.

Indian Americans make up less than one percent of America’s population, but one out of every seven doctors in the US is of Indian heritage, providing medical care to over 40 million people. Many of them have lost their lives treating covid patients.

RELATED: American Bazaar’s Covid-19 coverage

Apart from about 80,000 practicing Indian American physicians fighting covid-19, some 40,000 medical students, residents, and fellows of Indian origin are supporting many of the hospitals affected by the pandemic.

Iowa Democrat Abby Finkenauer helped lead the bipartisan introduction of the legislation in the House Friday with fellow Democrat Brad Schneider and Republicans, Tom Cole and Don Bacon.

The bipartisan Senate companion bill is led by Democratic Senators Dick Durbin and Chris Coons and Republicans David Perdue and Todd Young.

“We need all hands on deck to address this generational crisis,” Finkenauer said in a media release. “We know this virus will not magically disappear, and experts like (White House covid adviser) Dr. Anthony Fauci are warning of a second wave this fall.”

READ: Covid-19: Indian American father daughter duo hailed as ‘healthcare heroes’  (May 8, 2020)

Noting that rural areas remain especially vulnerable and are already experiencing a shortage of medical professionals, Finkenauer said the legislation “could immediately send medical reinforcements to areas where they are needed most.”

The Healthcare Workforce Resilience Act would allow for recapturing green cards that were approved by Congress but unused in past years, allowing thousands of additional medical professionals to serve permanently in the US, the release said.

The legislation would send green cards to 25,000 nurses and 15,000 doctors during the covid-19 pandemic.

The Act is endorsed by organizations such as the American Medical Association, US Chamber of Commerce, American Association of International Healthcare Recruitment, and American Organization for Nursing Leadership among others.

READ: Over 200,000 Indians could die in Green Card line: study (March 31, 2020)

“Physicians fighting covid-19 are eager to hear these words: Reinforcements are on the way,” said Patrice A. Harris, M.D., President of the American Medical Association as cited by the release.

“Recapturing 15,000 unused immigrant visas for physicians through the Healthcare Workforce Resilience Act would ease the burden on frontline physicians who are risking their lives in understaffed hospitals,” he said.

“This bipartisan legislation recognizes the physician shortage that existed before the pandemic and is getting more severe while the need for caregivers is growing daily.”

“The Healthcare Workforce Resilience Act is a commonsense answer to urgent workforce needs at essential hospitals during the covid-19 crisis,” said Dr. Bruce Siegel, President and CEO of America’s Essential Hospitals as cited by the release.

READ: House passes Fairness for High Skilled Immigrants Act, H.R. 1044 (July 10, 2019)

Welcoming the initiative to to empower the US trained immigrant physicians already working in the US, Physicians for American Healthcare Access (PAHA) said, “Eliminating restrictions on these physicians fighting in the front lines will instantly expand the workforce.”

Even before the covid pandemic, US faced a daunting shortage of doctors, particularly in rural areas (shortage of 120,000 physicians in the US by 2032), it noted.

“By recapturing previously unused immigrant visas,” said Neil Bradley, Executive Vice President and Chief Policy Officer at the US Chamber of Commerce, the legislation “would expedite the provision of lawful permanent residency to many foreign national doctors and nurses across the country,”

“At this critical juncture in our nation’s battle against COVID-19, our nation needs these healthcare professionals to focus on the health and well-being of our fellow Americans who are their patients, and this bill will help them in their efforts to fight this disease and save American lives,” he said.

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