House passes foreign nurse bill to serve shortage areas

In a move to help hospitals in inner-city neighborhoods and rural areas attract nurses, the House of Representatives approved a bill, H.R. 1933, that would extend the entry of foreign nurses in areas with health professional shortages.

The bill would reauthorize the H-1C temporary registered nurse visa program, allowing foreign nurses to work in U.S. hospitals for an additional three years, according to a Committee on the Judiciary press release.

While the former H-1C program made an annual 500 visas available, the new bill would only allow 300 foreign nurses to work in the United States per year.

For hospitals to request foreign nurses fill their current staff openings, they must be located in a health professional shortage area, that is, locations that have a shortage of primary medical care, dental, or mental health providers. These hospitals also must have at least 190 acute-care beds, with certain percentages of the patients on Medicare and Medicaid.

So as not to alienate American-born health professionals, the bill contains wage protections for U.S. nurses and requires hospitals to take timely and significant steps to recruit U.S. nurses, according to the press release. 

As of July 27, there are 6,419 primary-care health professional shortage areas with 66.5 million residents. According to HRSA, it would take 17,727 practitioners to meet their primary care provider needs.

Yet, the new bill appears to apply to only 14 hospitals, many of which are in the home state of bill-sponsor Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), according to Immigration Daily.

The bill will move on to the Senate for a vote. President Obama is expected to sign the bill if the Senate approves it, notes Immigration Daily.

For more:
- read the press release
- here's the bill
- read the Immigration Daily blog post
- visit the HRSA website to find shortage areas