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Cole Joins Bipartisan Introduction of Healthcare Workforce Resilience Act

May 8, 2020
Press Release

Washington, D.C. – As the United States faces the unprecedented public health crisis posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, Congressman Tom Cole (R-OK) today joined Congressman Brad Schneider (D-IL), Congresswoman Abigail Finkenauer (D-IA) and Congressman Don Bacon (R-NE) in introducing bipartisan legislation that would grant immigrant visas to foreign-born doctors currently serving among the American healthcare workforce and additional visas to enable foreign-born nurses to come aid in providing care in the United States. 

The Healthcare Workforce Resilience Act would reallocate visas previously authorized by Congress that have not currently been used. Of these, 15,000 visas would be reallocated for foreign-born physicians and 25,000 visas for foreign-born nurses. While meeting the demands posed by the current public health crisis, the legislation would ensure durable immigration status for this vital workforce. And by utilizing previously approved but unused visas, the proposal would not increase current immigration numbers. The Senate version of this legislation, S. 3599, was introduced earlier this week by Senators David Perdue (R-GA), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Todd Young (R-IN) and Chris Coons (D-DE).

“Considering that Oklahoma has the fourth largest shortage of doctors in the nation and a shortage of nurses well above the national average, there is clearly a need for solutions to strengthen our health care workforce and increase the capacity for delivering critical care,” said Congressman Cole. “As we continue to monitor and combat the spread of COVID-19 and cautiously prepare for a potential second wave of cases, it is vital that steps are taken to ensure all communities, including rural areas, are well equipped and ready to face down this terrible disease. I am proud to join my colleagues in introducing this important legislation.”

“Many of our communities have been facing a critical shortage of nurses, doctors and other qualified health care workers for a long time, and the COVID-19 pandemic has greatly exacerbated the problem,” said Congressman Schneider. “Immigrant nurses and doctors have long been an integral part of our health care system, and during this public health crisis, these highly trained, dedicated health professionals can make a life-saving difference. I am proud to introduce this legislation to enable more qualified physicians and nurses to meet the needs of our communities. The strong bipartisan, bicameral support for this bill shows it is a commonsense response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and I urge all my colleagues to join us in this effort.”

“We need all hands on deck to address this generational crisis,” said Congresswoman Finkenauer. “We know this virus will not magically disappear, and experts like Dr. Anthony Fauci are warning of a second wave this fall. Rural areas, which make up much of my district, remain especially vulnerable and are already experiencing a shortage of medical professionals. I am proud to join Reps. Schneider, Cole and Bacon on a bill that could immediately send medical reinforcements to areas where they are needed most.”

“This commonsense legislation will allow those healthcare workers who are legally here to continue to serve our communities when they are needed most during this pandemic,” said Congressman Bacon. “I’m thankful to join my colleagues in introducing this bipartisan legislation that will simply reallocate already authorized visas, that are not being used.”

“The growing shortage of doctors and nurses over the past decade has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 crisis,” said Senator Perdue. “Fortunately, there are thousands of trained health professionals who want to practice in the United States. This proposal would simply reallocate a limited number of unused visas from prior years for doctors and nurses who are qualified to help in our fight against COVID-19. This shortage is critical and needs immediate attention so that our healthcare facilities are not overwhelmed in this crisis.”

“Consider this: one-sixth of our health care workforce is foreign-born. Immigrant nurses and doctors play a vital role in our health care system, and their contributions are now more crucial than ever. Where would we be in this pandemic without them?” said Senator Durbin. “This bipartisan, targeted and timely legislation will strengthen our health care workforce and improve health care access for Americans in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. I encourage my colleagues in both chambers and on both sides of the aisle to support these vital health care workers.”

Individuals approved for visas under this legislation would still be required to meet the licensing requirements, pay required filing fees and clear rigorous national security and criminal history background checks before they are eligible to receive recaptured green cards. Employers of these medical professionals would also need to attest that the immigrant medical professional has not displaced and will not displace an American worker.

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

“On behalf of our nearly 5,000 member hospitals, health systems and other health care organizations, our clinician partners – including more than 270,000 physicians, 2 million nurses, 9,800 nurse leaders and other caregivers – and the 43,000 health care leaders who belong to our professional membership groups, the American Hospital Association (AHA) and the American Organization for Nursing Leadership (AONL) are writing to strongly support the Healthcare Workforce Resilience Act,” AHA and AONL wrote in a recent letter supporting the legislation. “There has never been a more urgent need for the care that foreign-born physicians and foreign-trained nurses provide than during the current COVID-19 pandemic. These professionals play a critical role in ensuring the health of our communities.”

“We want to thank Congressman Cole for his leadership in addressing healthcare worker shortages across the country, and introducing a bill that will increase providers at a time when we so desperately need them,” said Jason R. Sanders, MD, MBA, Senior Vice President and Provost, OU Health Sciences Center and Vice Chair of the Board, OU Medicine. “We have numerous physicians and nurses in Oklahoma who have been on an H-1B visa for multiple years due to the green card backlog. The Healthcare Workforce Resilience Act would alleviate most of the backlog for these highly trained healthcare professionals.”

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, America’s Essential Hospitals. “We thank Reps. Cole, Bacon, Schneider and Finkenauer and their Senate counterparts for this bipartisan commitment to frontline providers and the public’s health.”

“The Chamber commends Reps. Schneider, Cole, Finkenauer and Bacon for their unique, bipartisan approach to address this critical workforce need in our nation’s healthcare system. By recapturing previously unused immigrant visas, the Healthcare Workforce Resilience Act would expedite the provision of lawful permanent residency to many foreign national doctors and nurses across the country,” said Neil Bradley, Executive Vice President and Chief Policy Officer at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. “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.”

“Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. healthcare workforce was already being strained, facing critical shortages of healthcare practitioners across the country,” said Tim Phillips, President, Americans for Prosperity. “Thanks to this bipartisan group of lawmakers, the Healthcare Workforce Resilience Act responds to this crisis by recapturing unused visas from previous years, with expedited visa processing, for 40,000 nurses and physicians. We urge lawmakers from both chambers to advance the Healthcare Workforce Resilience Act and enact it into law.” 

“The COVID-19 pandemic has tested our country and our citizens in a variety of ways,” stated the Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC) Action. “As we look to response and recovery, a rightful area of focus has been on the healthcare sector, specifically the healthcare workforce, and ensuring that we have appropriate staffing to respond to the demands of the COVID-19 crisis. BPC Action applauds the work of Representatives Schneider, Cole, Finkenauer and Bacon, whose legislation, the Healthcare Workforce Resilience Act, seeks to expand the healthcare workforce by recapturing previously unused visas to allow the entry of nurses and physicians into the U.S. These unprecedented times demand swift and responsive actions by Congress to address the labor shortages currently facing the healthcare sector – the Healthcare Workforce Resilience Act seeks to address that challenge, and we support its passage.”

“PAHA welcomes and endorses the initiative taken by Reps Schneider, Cole, Finkenauer and Bacon to empower the U.S. trained immigrant physicians already working here,” stated the Physicians for American Healthcare Access (PAHA). “Eliminating restrictions on these physicians fighting in the front lines will instantly expand the workforce. Even before the COVID pandemic, the United States faced a daunting shortage of doctors, particularly in rural areas (shortage of 120,000 physicians in the U.S. by 2032). The COVID-19 pandemic has shattered the communities and has aggravated the problem of physician access. International physicians often in the underserved areas enhance healthcare access and are a force for the local economy and employment. Our communities have welcomed these doctors and long cherished the benefits. This bill, if legislated, would be one of the most important interventions to rebuilding the country in the long term.”

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