Many are now looking for overseas health care workers as American hospitals face a severe shortage of nurses due to a crippling pandemic.

It could happen just in the right moment.

This year, there are twice the number of green cards for foreign professionals (including nurses) who wish to migrate to the United States. This is because U.S. consulates that were closed during the coronavirus epidemic weren’t issuing visas for relatives of American citizens. These slots are now transferred to qualified workers.

Amy L. Erlbacher–Anderson, an Omaha immigration lawyer, stated that she has seen more foreign nurses in the past two years than in her entire 18-year career. She said that this year it is more likely that they will be approved, provided U.S. consular office can process all applications.

She said that we have twice the number of visas available than we had for decades. “That’s kind of creating a temporary open situation.”

U.S. hospitals face a shortage in nurses. This situation has been exacerbated by pandemic burnout, which caused many to quit their jobs or retire. The number of coronavirus cases continues to rise and fall, putting immense pressure on the health system. According to a recent report from the University of California San Francisco, California has an estimated shortage of 40,000 nurses. This is 14% of the total workforce.

Although hospitals are finding ways to fill the gaps, it can be costly to hire traveling nurses. Hospital administrators claim that not enough nurses are graduating each year from U.S. universities to meet demand.

Many hospitals have been bringing nurses from the Philippines, Jamaica, and other English-speaking nations for years. More are following their lead. Both long-standing recruiters as well as newcomers seek to profit from the green card boom before September’s fiscal year ends.

People moving to the United States for specific professional jobs such as nursing usually receive at least 140,000 green card annually. Many are granted to permanent residents of the United States, but some are given to foreign workers. This year, there are 280,000 green cards available. Recruiters hope that some extras will be taken up by nurses looking to work in America’s pandemic-weary hospitals.

Biden’s administration has taken steps to reverse Trump-era restrictions on legal immigration and has also tried to assist foreign health care workers to combat the pandemic. U.S. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services stated that it would accelerate the renewal of work permits to health care workers. This could allow some foreigners to remain in the United States. A State Department official stated that consulates were instructed last year by the agency to prioritize applications for workers in facilities responding to the pandemic.

Faith Akinmade, a Nigerian nurse aged 22, is looking for a quick fix. Akinmade, a 22-year-old nurse from Nigeria, has been working as an ICU nursing specialist at the University of Louisville Hospital in Kentucky since she graduated college. Her work permit will expire in March. She stated that she must renew her work permit or get her green card to continue working.

Akinmade stated that she feels like she has faith that something will show up at the end March to continue working. Akinmade said that the issue is affecting many of her international colleagues, as well as domestic colleagues. They may have to accept shifts for their colleagues if their immigration paperwork hasn’t been received.

Roxie Wells is the president of Cape Fear Valley Hoke Hospital, Raeford, North Carolina. She said that she tried to recruit foreign nurses before the pandemic. However, it wasn’t until last season that they started receiving consular interviews in greater numbers. Wells stated that they have approved 150 people to work in the hospital so far. However, another 75 are still being sought.

She said, “Obviously it has been more important during the pandemic.” “The 150, without them, we would be in a precarious position.”

Due to the rise in the omicron virus in the United States, the staffing shortage in hospitals has become even more acute. Health care workers have been infected with the highly contagious virus and are being forced from work when more patients are arriving.

Sinead Carbery is the president of Nurse Staffing Solutions at AMN Healthcare. She stated that the demand for international nurses has increased between 300% to 400% since the pandemic. Even with additional green cards, the number of nurses who can enter the United States will not be sufficient to meet the demand. Therefore, many more nurses are being hired overseas by recruiters looking for immigrant visas.

She said, “This is an opportunity window.” “Because all is flowing so smoothly, there’s lots of competition for that talent.”

National Nurses United, which represents 175,000 registered nurses, stated that international recruitment should be scrutinized more to ensure that foreign nurses are not brought in and exposed to unsafe working conditions. This union claims that hospitals have driven away U.S. nurses through their low staffing levels. This was long before concerns about worker safety and protections during COVID-19.

Michelle Mahon, assistant director of nursing practices for the union, stated that many foreign nurses have long-term contracts with their employers. This can make it difficult for them to voice concerns about patient safety or labor conditions. She stated that hospitals that lost their nurses during the pandemic are now looking for overseas workers to replace them.

Mahon stated that this kind of dynamic is especially attractive to employers who haven’t made the necessary changes to ensure safety for patients and nurses during this COVID-19 pandemic. They want to pivot to this fake solution, instead of addressing the real problem.

However, hospital administrators claim that there are not enough U.S.-trained nurse to fill the gap. Patty Jeffrey, president of American Association of International Healthcare Recruitment, stated that the United States should increase its nursing education programs in order to train more nurses at home and allow more nurses from abroad. She acknowledged that legislation would be required to bring in a greater number of nurses.

Jeffrey stated, “The calls are everyday ringing off-the-hook: We need 100, 200, and we need all these nurses.”

Jorge Almeida Neri (26-year-old Portuguese nurse) arrived in the United States last year. However, he started the process long before the pandemic. According to him, he was unable to pass the required international nursing exam due to the virus. He also said it took four months for him to be interviewed for consular interviews. However, other international nurses that he has met have had much shorter wait times. About a year ago, he applied for the current position at Virginia’s hospital. He was referred by a staffing agency.

“After everything was certified, the immigration process began and I thought it would be fast,” he stated.

Almeida Neri stated that many Portuguese nurses are looking for work abroad because the wages are lower. However, many choose to work elsewhere in Europe which isn’t as time-consuming as the United States.

There is no guarantee that hospitals will actually take up more visas despite the demand. Greg Siskind is an immigration lawyer. He said that U.S. consular officers aren’t required by law to issue visas simply because they are available. They are also limited on remote work and video interviews. While most employment-based green card applications are issued to Americans, he said that they tend to be to those who have already been in the country and not to foreigners. However, there is more to do to speed up these processes.

He stated that “Under their current policy, if they do not make any changes it will be difficult” regarding the likelihood that the U.S. government would issue all available visas. “But there are many things they could.”