Mar 7, 2023 - Health

Immigration seen as a solution to nursing home labor woes

Illustration of a nurse walking with an elderly man.

Illustration: Gabriella Turrisi/Axios

Increased immigration could help solve nursing homes' persistent workforce shortages and improve the quality of care in communal health settings, a new National Bureau of Economic Research paper found.

Why it matters: Nursing homes have been hit the hardest by staffing shortages post-pandemic, and the Biden administration could issue a rule on minimum staffing requirements as soon as this spring to address quality issues.

Yes, but: The percentage of Americans wanting less immigration has surged since President Biden took office, and a divided Congress isn't likely to liberalize policies.

By the numbers: 87% of nursing homes have moderate to high staffing shortages, according to a 2022 survey from the American Health Care Association, which represents the industry.

  • Immigrants make up about 19% of workers in nursing homes, per the NBER paper.
  • Every 10% increase in female immigration would yield 0.7% more nurse assistant hours per nursing home resident and 1.1% more registered nurse hours, researchers projected.
  • Short-term hospitalizations of nursing home residents would also decline 0.6%.

The details: Immigrant health care workers can work in the U.S. with temporary work (H1-B) visas or employment-based visas (EB-3).

  • Both require the employer to petition U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services before a person applies.
  • H1-B visa workers who were working the "Medicine and Health" field only made up 3.5% of the total number of recipients in 2021, but there have been recent increases.
  • In fiscal 2022, the State Department issued 145% more employment-based immigrant visas for health care workers compared to fiscal-year 2019, per a department spokesperson.
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