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Non-Immigrant Nurses Visa Reauthorization

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

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Mr. SMITH of Texas. I yield myself such time as I may consume.

Mr. Speaker, I offer this legislation on behalf of myself and Representatives Cuellar, Hinojosa, Roskam, and Rush.

A number of American hospitals have great difficulty attracting nurses. These include hospitals that serve mostly poor patients in inner-city neighborhoods and some hospitals in rural areas. For example, St. Bernard Hospital in Chicago is the only remaining hospital in an area of over 100,000 people and almost all of its patients live in poverty. St. Bernard almost closed its doors in 1992 primarily because of its inability to attract registered nurses.

Congress passed the Nursing Relief for Disadvantaged Areas Act in 1999 to help hospitals like St. Bernard. It created a new H-1C temporary registered nurse visa program with 500 visas available each year that allowed nurses to stay for 3 years.

To be able to petition for a foreign nurse, an employer had to meet four conditions. First, the employer had to be located in a health professional shortage area; second, the employer had to have at least 190 acute care beds; third, a certain percentage of the employer's patients had to be Medicare patients; and fourth, a certain percentage of patients had to be Medicaid patients.

The H-1C program adopted the protections for American nurses contained in the expired H-1A nursing visa program. For instance, a hospital had to agree to take timely and significant steps to recruit American nurses. Also, hospitals had to pay the prevailing wage.

The H-1C program contained new protections such as requirements that foreign nurses could not comprise more than one-third of a hospital's registered nurses. The H-1C program was extended in 2006 but expired in December of 2009, though many nurses still remain on 3-year visas issued before that date.

Sister Elizabeth Van Straten, president of St. Bernard Hospital, wrote to me last December that "because of the sunset, in combination with the extended approval period for green cards, nurses are now forced to leave our institution, and the rate of loss continues to increase. This loss cannot be sustained. As the only hospital serving one of the most difficult sections of Chicago, and perhaps the entire country, we need the extension of the visa program to survive.''

I introduced H.R. 1933 to help St. Bernard and other, similar hospitals. The bill reauthorizes the H-1C program for another 3 years. The number of visas that may be issued in each fiscal year cannot exceed 300. An alien may be admitted for 3 years, and this stay may be extended once for an additional 3 years.

The H-1C program ensures continued care for patients in inner-city and rural communities. I urge my colleagues to support this legislation.

I reserve the balance of my time.

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