Washington: A group of influential Democratic lawmakers has urged the Trump administration to exempt healthcare workers from the temporary suspension of the entry of certain foreign workers including those on H-1B visas, the most sought-after among Indian IT professionals.
President Donald Trump, in his June proclamation, banned the entry into the US of workers in several key non-immigrant visa categories, including the H-1B, arguing that they eat into American jobs during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The H-1B visa is a non-immigrant visa that allows US companies to employ foreign workers in speciality occupations that require theoretical or technical expertise. Companies depend on it to hire tens of thousands of employees each year from countries like India and China.
In a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf and Labour Secretary Eugene Scalia, the lawmakers on Tuesday said that the restrictions hit the healthcare at large and particularly for the rural and underserved communities that rely on immigrant physicians.
Even though the proclamation provides relaxations to the individuals working on the COVID-19 related care and research, they said it is overly restrictive, and limiting the supply of healthcare workers during this crisis puts all Americans at risk.
The letter was signed by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal and House Subcommittee on Immigration and Citizenship Chairwoman Zoe Lofgren.
Critical to controlling any pandemic is the ability to rapidly deploy the health workforce to care for patients, mitigate spread and advance health research agendas that offer rapid solutions, the Chairs wrote.
"Without an adequate health and research workforce, we risk the unnecessary loss of more lives and further obstacles to our economic recovery," the letter said.
As noted by the American Association of Medical Colleges (AAMC), restricting these gifted international researchers and physicians from entering the US will not help the economy, but will hamper the ability of the country's medical schools and teaching hospitals to make scientific progress. Ultimately, it will reduce healthcare access across the US, the letter said.
Nadler, Neal and Lofgren emphasised that "the United States needs the strongest possible healthcare and research workforce now more than ever." Importantly, this includes individuals who provide care or conduct research in areas other than COVID-19.
Health workers and researchers working on issues unrelated to COVID-19 free up others to focus on COVID-19, while continuing to provide essential care and conduct critical research that cannot stop because of the pandemic.
The lawmakers explained how the proclamation directs the Secretary of Homeland Security to consult with Secretaries of State and Labour and to recommend to the President any necessary modifications to the Proclamation.
"As such, we urge you to recommend that the President modify Proclamation 10052 to exempt all health workers and researchers from the suspension on entry because they all serve the national interest," they said.
As the US surpasses 4.6 million coronavirus cases with over 154,000 deaths, it is important to consider infections and deaths of health workers and researchers when projecting workforce needs, the top Democratic congressmen said.
Researchers project that in the first year of the pandemic, millions of healthcare workers will test positive for COVID-19 and thousands will die from it. As such, visa programmes are more important than ever to ensure that the health workforce is resilient and prepared both for the current wave of COVID-19 as well as the subsequent waves predicted to hit the country in the near future, they added.