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The Impact of Immigration on Healthcare

Healthcare in the United States has been a challenging political and economic issue for the past several decades. Most of the debate around healthcare policy surrounds securing access to care and paying for health insurance coverage. Overlooked by that point is the supply of medical workers who provide this care. Currently, at least 25% of medical workers in the United States were not born there, according to a report recently released by the census bureau. Even with this boost from foreign labor (both permanent and temporary), the system is still overtaxed and unable to meet demand. The negative effects associated with this fact have led many to say that a key part of the United States healthcare strategy should be the recruitment of overseas talent and policies that allow this effort to happen. If successful, the strategy would benefit both patients and existing U.S. professionals.

An Overworked System

“The majority of Healthcare professionals are favoring greater work-life balance, said Dr. Ahmad Masri to Reuters last week. “as we focus more on the wellness of healthcare professionals, the days of working 24/7 non-stop, at least for physicians, are over. The majority of physicians nowadays value a reasonable work life balance, and that shift would only lead to increase in demand for more healthcare professionals.” The system needs additional medical professionals in order to allow for more flexible schedules and balanced lives for current doctors, nurses and surgeons. A shift toward prevention and wellness work and specialization could also be possible for existing workers if additional resources entered the system on the entry level. Masri went on to say, “there are shortages in many sectors of healthcare, especially in the underserved communities, which many foreign-born graduates end up serving.” Healthcare is an industry which benefits from additional labor resources. Additional professionals would allow for lower stress and shorter hours.

Eventually, less “hindrance stress” on individual professional resources can cause an increase in the quality of the care provided, according to a study published last month by the National Institute of Health in August 2018. In a study in 2014, the NIH also found a “sequential link from exhaustion to cynicism.” Studies like these have shown that the existing model not only is not preferred, it is also unsustainable. And according to the Bureau of Labor statistics, the demand for healthcare professionals is expected to increase faster than average over the next ten years.

A National Strategy to Retain Talent

It is clear from these figures that the United States must adopt a strategy to recruit and retain additional talent to reduce strain on its healthcare system. In addition to training homegrown talent, this strategy must also include securing currently available talent from foreign nationals. However, the current immigration system is not suited to take full advantage of this talent. For workers from the two most populous countries, India and China, longer wait times for permanent residence and a lottery whose odds have dropped to one in three have made planning to move to the United States to practice a future that’s increasingly harder to plan for.

In addition, moves to favor workers who have attained master’s degrees from U.S. institutions have the effect of favoring technical and academic workers over medical ones. Because the MD credential is considered a professional degree instead of a master’s degree, the H-1B lottery currently prefers workers other than those in the medical industry. Furthermore, as the Trump administration is making moves to shift the H-1B lottery’s formula to even greater preference on those with master’s degrees, medical workers appear to be set to gain an even smaller share of the 65,000 visas they must participate in the annual lottery to attain. Due to the level of strain on the healthcare system and the resulting demand for additional workers, we feel there is insufficient consideration for the need to increase the level of foreign medical labor on both temporary and permanent bases. Several reforms could be considered, such as counting the MD and some nursing degrees as master’s degrees in the H-1B lottery, as well as creating separate categories for medical professional. This could include a revival and expansion of the H-1C category, which was available to nurses until the classification expired in 2009.

Our firm believes that U.S. immigration strategy is as crucial, if not more crucial to healthcare than to other industries. We have over 25 years helping professionals from all industries work and succeed in the United States by strengthening cases for permanent and temporary visas. Contact us today for a review of your case.

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