A nurse immigration relief amendment was included by unanimous consent in a voice vote this evening. Nursing immigration ground to a halt earlier this year because of retrogression in the EB-3 green card category, the depletion of a 2005 allotment of 50,000 green cards for nurses and the lack of a non-immigrant visa category for nurses. The Senate added the measure as an amendment to H.R. 3043, the HHS-Labor budget bill. Amendment 3404, Senator Charles Schumer's Amendment, was passed as amended by Amendment 3449, introduced by Illinois Democrat Dick Durbin. I am awaiting the final text of 3449, but I have what I believe is the final language. The key provisions are as follows:
- 61,000 immigrant visas for Schedule A occupations (nurses and physical therapists) and their immediate family members; the numbers are drawn from unused green cards from prior years
- A $1500 additional fee for each of these green cards to be paid as a condition of approval of the adjustment application by USCIS or issuance of the visa by the State Department; waiver for certain facilities in disaster areas or HHS-designated halth professional shortage areas.
- Brain drain provision one: nurses, physicians and other health care workers must attest that they do not owe their native country any financial obligation tied to their health care worker education (an exception is made if the obligation was incurred by coercion or in the case of undue hardship); this provision shall take effect 180 days after passage of the bill
- A grant program is created to allow US nursing schools to increase the number of nursing faculty and students
- Brain drain provision two: Permanent resident health care workers (including doctors and nurses) will get credit toward naturalization and not be deemed to have abandoned permanent residency during time spent working in the following countries (a list will be published by DOS within six months (and DHS must publish rules within six months) of enactment of the legislation and updated annually):
- countries eligible for International Development Association assistance or
- which are classified as "lower middle income countries" in the World Development Report for Reconstruction and Development published by the Bank for Reconstruction and Development or
- a country determined jointly by DHS and DOS to be qualified due to special circumstances such as natural disasters or public health emergencies
In case people miss it, the brain drain provisions cover doctors as well as other health care workers.
Note that the bill still has some key hurdles including making it out of a House-Senate conference committee and past a presidential veto. But passage on the Senate floor was considered the biggest obstacle.