A recent article from Forbes.com highlighted an alarming trend as it relates to the impact of current immigration law on the physical care for an aging U.S. population. The article references a report (PDF) released last month from the National Foundation for American Policy (NFAP) which stated the following:
The U.S. Congress and the executive branch have failed to establish immigration policies that would allow a sufficient number of foreign-born doctors, nurses and other medical personnel to work in the United States. At a time of tremendous need in health care, the United States is saddled with an immigration system designed to prevent, not facilitate, the entry of highly skilled physicians, nurses, physical therapists and other foreign-born medical personnel. The aging U.S. population, the demands of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and the potential benefits brought by medical advances and increased specialization mean America must tap the global talent pool in health care or see its citizens suffer the consequences.
Foreign physical therapists are faced with a daunting process of tests and procedures before they can even tackle the process for obtaining H-1B visas or green cards. They first must pass the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) exam to demonstrate a proficiency in English. Additionally, their education and professional credentials must be evaluated by the physical therapy board in the state they expect to work in, and in some cases such boards may require additional training before a foreign physical therapist will be allowed to practice in that state.
Part of the process requires that an agency designated by U.S. Customs and Immigration Services (USCIS) must issue a health care worker's credentials certification to the foreign physical therapist before they will be allowed to practice physical therapy. But before they can even take a state's physical therapy exam, the foreign physical therapist must obtain a visitor visa, which is not always guaranteed. The final step would be to apply for an H-1B visa or a green card, a process which can take years.
With over 100 million Americans aged 50 or older, and with millions of Americans turning 55 every year, it is expected that within two decades over 20 percent of the U.S. population will be 65 over older. NFAP argues that in order to serve the healthcare needs of what will become a substantial elderly population, it is vitally necessary for U.S. immigration policy to be streamlined for foreign physical therapists.
“Congress should expand the number of employment-based green cards to reduce the wait times for skilled immigrants, including physical/occupational therapists, increase H-1B visa availability and streamline licensing and other procedures for foreign medical personnel. These steps will serve the needs of patients and help meet the nation's long-term health care needs.”
In our next article we'll discuss some specifics from the NFAP report regarding the difficult immigration procedures that foreign physical therapists face, and the expected adverse implications to the U.S. population's healthcare needs.