August 1, 2011 - Washington, D.C. - The House of Representatives today approved a bill (H.R. 1933) sponsored by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) to help hospitals in inner-city neighborhoods and rural areas that have difficulty attracting nurses. Specifically, it reauthorizes the H-1C temporary visa program that allows foreign nurses to come to the U.S. to work in health professional shortage areas for an additional three years.
The House overwhelmingly approved the bill by a vote of 407-17.
Chairman Smith: "A number of American hospitals have great difficulty attracting nurses. These include hospitals that serve mostly poor patients in inner-city neighborhoods and some hospitals in rural areas.
"For example, St. Bernard Hospital in Chicago is the only remaining hospital in an area of over 100,000 people and almost all of its patients live in poverty. St. Bernard almost closed its doors in 1992, primarily because of its inability to attract registered nurses.
"I introduced H.R. 1933 to help St. Bernard and other similar hospitals. The bill reauthorizes the H-1C program for an additional three years. The H-1C program ensures continued care for patients in inner-city and rural communities."
About the H-1C Temporary Visa Program:
In 1999, Congress passed the "Nursing Relief for Disadvantaged Areas Act" to help hospitals that serve mostly poor patients in inner-city neighborhoods and some hospitals in rural areas. It created a new "H-1C" temporary registered nurse visa program with 500 visas available each year that allow nurses to stay for three years. The visa program expired in December 2009.
To be able to petition for a foreign nurse, an employer has to meet four conditions. First, the employer has to be located in a health professional shortage area. Second, the employer has to have at least 190 acute care beds. Third, a certain percentage of the employer's patients have to be Medicare patients. And fourth, a certain percentage of patients have to be Medicaid patients.
The H-1C program also contains protections for American nurses. For instance, a hospital has to agree to take timely and significant steps to recruit American nurses. Also, hospitals have to pay the prevailing wage. It also requires that foreign nurses cannot comprise more than one-third of a hospital's registered nurses.