New Foreign Worker Bill To Ease Staffing Burden

April 21, 2016, Blair Jackson, Provider - Recruiting, training, and retaining caregiving staff is one of the biggest challenges for nursing care center operators. High turnover and a shallow labor pool—coupled with a nationwide shortage of nurses—make effective staffing one of the biggest headaches for providers.

“There is a well-documented health care worker shortage, and the crisis will only worsen if action is not taken," says Clifton Porter II, senior vice president of government relations for the American Health Care Association and National Center for Assisted Living.

Right on cue, a new bill introduced by U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) promises to deliver some much-needed relief by making it easier for foreign nurses and other health care workers to get jobs at skilled nursing centers.

The Willing Workers and Willing Employers Act will create a pilot guest worker program designed to address the gap that currently exists between temporary visa programs for seasonal workers and the H-1B visa program for highly skilled immigrants.

“A flexible visa program designed to better meet economic demand is exactly the approach we need to bring U.S. immigration policy into the 21st century,” said Flake.

The 10-year-long pilot program established by the bill will admit workers to the United States who have less than a bachelor’s degree to do year-round, non-farm work. The program also will create a flexible cap for registered positions ranging in pay from $65,000 to $85,000 a year to match economic demand.

Flake said the program will provide greater portability for employers and employees by enabling workers to change jobs and work for any employer who has tested the labor market and proved that they are unable to hire an American worker for the position.

Flake noted that there would be strict requirements that employers must seek an available U.S. worker before hiring a guest worker under this program.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Labor, as many as 6.5 million more nurses, nurse assistants, and personal care workers will be required to care for the 27 million Americans who will need long term care by 2050.

“Smart, market-based guest worker programs like this go a long way to help employers in need by allowing our members to hire the staff necessary to provide critical care for some of the nation’s most vulnerable populations,” Porter says.