By Lourdes Santos Tancinco
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 11:25:00 01/14/2009
JENNY, a registered nurse (RN), entered into a contract of employment with a US recruitment agency in 2005. She was told she would be working in a US hospital as soon as the visa was made available. Her petition for I-140 was processed and had a priority date of September 2005.
Having already waited one year for her immigrant visa, Jenny ran out of resources and was forced to accept a nursing job in Australia. She has been working in Australia for more than three years now, but has not abandoned her dream of working in the US.
During Jenny’s visit to the Philippines for the holiday season, she asked her recruitment agency when would she receive her visa. She has been hearing about businesses and facilities closing in the US and is wondering if her approved petition will be affected by the current global financial crisis that started in the US.
While visas for registered nurses fall under Schedule A, the category that certifies a shortage occupation in the US, processing for these visas is still taking a long time. Unlike before, when the category for registered nurses was placed under a special classification that added more visas, the category of registered nurses is incorporated under the third employment-based preference category, or EB3.
Changes in Circumstances
Only a certain number of visas are available for each given fiscal year. Since there are more applications/approved petitions than the number of visas available, there is now a backlog in the issuance of visas which is often referred to as retrogression.
For the month of January 2009, the US Department of State’s visa bulletin indicates that the visas processed for nurses are those that were filed in May 2005. This means that the petitions with priority dates of May 2005 are the ones being issued visas by consular offices.
When registered nurses interested in working in the US sign contracts with recruitment agencies, they are expected to work for the designated US facility or hospital for a certain period of time. Most of the contracts signed show a two- or three-year commitment to work for the petitioning employer.
There are probable changes in circumstances that may affect the grant or denial of the visas with priority dates of 2005. The lengthy period of waiting may have resulted in changes on the need of the US employer. Because of budget constraints being experienced by most public institutions, the US hospitals dependent on federal, state or city funding may have terminated employees. In San Francisco is a plan to terminate several hundred employees from the Department of Public Health because of budget issues. The public hospitals have started terminating employees also to reduce their expenses.
Terminating public employees in public hospitals or facilities has a severe effect on approved petitions on behalf of foreign nurses. This holds true also for private institutions. The Immigration and Nationality Act requires the US petitioner to have the financial ability to pay their employees for the foreign worker to be granted the immigrant visa. If the petitioner has a diminished ability to pay additional workers, even if the petition was approved before 2009, the immigrant visa petition will be adversely affected.
Need still critical
The US Citizenship and Immigration Services issued in December 2008, a memorandum on the processing of petition for registered nurses. According to the USCIS Ombudsman, the need for registered nurses remains critical and the processing for their immigrant visa petitions must be expedited.
This memorandum is significant proof of the need to give important consideration to the processing of immigrant visas for registered nurses. The processing time addressed in this document is the processing of the Petition for Immigrant Worker or the I-140. This petition, if approved, will have a priority date that will indicate when a visa is finally going to be issued. Unfortunately, there will still be waiting time because of retrogression even if the proposed expedited processing is established and the I-140 petitions are approved.
Legislation passed by the US Congress adding more visas to the RN petitions, or even better, exempting them from the visa quota, will be the faster and more practical solution to obtaining faster visas for the RNs.
The message we send for the New Year is all about remaining hopeful despite the many challenges of a US financial crisis and a global recession. The same remains true for aspiring Filipino RNs who want to work in the US.
The demand for registered nurses is still high. The healthy financial situation of each petitioner must be intact to continue the processing of the immigrant visa petition.
For registered nurses who have waited many years, it is prudent to research on the existence of the US employer considering that many US businesses and institutions have been adversely affected by the financial crisis.
The good news is that the incoming Obama administration has health care among the top of his priority list. Let’s be hopeful that real solutions are taken in the next 100 days after his inauguration. Happy New Year to all!
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