March 15, 2013
How Immigration Reform Affects Elders
As lawmakers work towards creating immigration reform proposals in the coming weeks, new groups in support of immigration reform emerge, including the American Health Care Association (AHCA). The Association believes that the country’s growing senior population has a vested interest in immigration reform efforts because they will directly impact how caregivers are employed and whether or not the rapidly growing need for elderly support will be met.
The caregiving industry has grown 40 percent since 2008, with over 2,000 new caregiving locations in the country. Historically, immigrants often filled caregiving jobs, whether it be physicians and skilled medical workers, or less skilled in-home care aides. However, in recent years immigration numbers have stagnated because of strict immigration laws as well as an underperforming economy. These factors disincentivize skilled and in-demand workers from immigrating to the United States. Further, home-care agencies, nursing homes, and other senior care providers can only hire legal residents due to insurance policies and licensing requirements, precluding undocumented workers from filling jobs. Meanwhile, the healthcare landscape in changing in such a way that it will need more people to fill already-existing jobs as well as jobs that will be created as technology and the delivery of healthcare evolves.
On March 13, the American Health Care Association (AHCA) voiced its support for comprehensive immigration reform, which they believe can directly improve the current caregiver shortage in the U.S. today. On March 14, Fred Benjamin, AHCA member and COO of Medicalodges in Kansas testified before the House Education & Workforce Subcommittee on Workplace Safety, offering solutions on how immigration reform should proceed.
On behalf of the AHCA, Benjamin proposed giving employers, rather than the government, control over visa programs, since the long term care-giving community frequently hires immigrants and boosts the economy. The AHCA also suggested waiving the cap on employment-based visas for nurses and physical therapists. Currently, the visa program provides approximately 5,000 annual visas for essential workers, which will not be enough for the increasing need for foreign-born, essential caregivers in the future. Benjamin also proposed creating a guest worker program that can accommodate the needs of U.S. healthcare providers. Allowing employers access to previously unused temporary work visas for nurses and physical therapists will address the decrease in the supply of nurses, which is projected to fall 36 percent below requirements by the year 2020.
Finally, the AHCA urged allowing businesses and the marketplace to play a leading role in immigration reform. The long-term and post-acute care profession is one of the largest job creators in the country, so enabling them to control visa programs and employment decisions will not only help meet the increasing need for workers, but will also directly improve the economy. Current immigration laws, including the visa program, have the ability to thwart the efforts of well-qualified immigrants from finding in-demand work in the caregiving industry.