WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin addressed the issue of a depleted health care workforce in a judiciary immigration subcommittee hearing on Wednesday.
He also cited the need for workers in rural Illinois areas after having toured health-care facilities, including Dixon’s KSB Hospital in July.
Durbin said: “I traveled my state in the month of August from the city of Chicago down to the most rural areas of Illinois and the message was consistently the same … they are facing a dramatic shortage in nurses, a dramatic shortage in doctors. And what we are trying to do here is find a solution to this. But as long as we are stuck on the issue of law enforcement, we can’t even address this.”
In his opening statement, Durbin said immigrant workers could help fill vacancies in the ranks of nurses, doctors, medical professionals and caregivers.
“They are already here and we need more of them,” he said.
Durbin introduced Dr. Ram Alur as an expert witness. Alur is a physician at Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Marion, where he has worked since 2011. But Alur also is one of thousands of doctors who are stuck in a green-card backlog and has co-founded Physicians for American Healthcare Access to address outdated immigration laws.
Alur testified that: “Doctors on temporary H-1B visas need to have their work visa renewed at least every three years through an uncertain petition process in which the employer, not the doctor, needs to file the essential paperwork. The process is a huge administrative burden to the employer and the employee with multiple agencies involved and currently is very protracted. I’ve had to renew my status five times so far to be able to continue working here. In 2016, my application for permanent residence as a physician of national interest was approved, but I have to wait at least a decade before I receive a green card due to the backlog.”
He said that the pandemic complicated the peril for workers on green card; a physician who contracts COVID-19 cannot work, endangering his family’s visa status.
Durbin said physicians such as Alur are forced to remain on temporary visas because of the lack of available green cards. Protections for family members who turn 21 are lifted and subjects them to deportation, he added.