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The $1.5 trillion Consolidated Appropriations Act passed by Congress last week includes a $275 million omnibus appropriations package that will help the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services address the backlogs and delays with processing immigration visas. President Biden is expected to sign the bill into law this week.

According to LeadingAge, an estimated 10,000 foreign-trained nurses have been on the waiting list for interviews, with an average wait time from 12 to 18 months. 

“The funding will help many foreign healthcare workers who have been waiting for permission to enter the U.S. through employment-based visa petitions,” the association said. “Unfortunately, the pandemic has slowed the pace at which U.S. officials have conducted interviews with visa seekers, which is one of the final steps needed to gain permanent residency.”

Among other omnibus appropriations provisions, within 180 days of the bill’s passing, the USCIS would be required under Division K of the omnibus package to, in consultation with the Department of Labor, examine the impacts of the current H-2B visa semiannual cap on employers, employees and agency operations. The visa program allows employers to hire foreign workers for certain temporary jobs.

The State Department would be required to submit a report to the Committees on Appropriations no later than 90 days after the bill is enacted “regarding lessons learned from the pandemic, including the adoption of remote services, the feasibility of increased interview waivers and remote visa interviews, and any other process improvements that would enhance consular services domestically and overseas.”

Long-term care-related associations have been calling for visa prioritization for what they call “desperately needed” workers. Prioritizing immigration visas for nurses, waiving immigration visa interviews and expanding in-person interviews to allow for virtual interviews would help address workforce challenges facing long-term care providers, a coalition of industry leaders said in a November 2021 letter to the State Department. The letter was signed by American Health Care Association/National Center for Assisted Living President and CEO Mark Parkinson, NCAL Executive Director LaShuan Bethea, LeadingAge President and CEO Katie Smith Sloan, Argentum President and CEO James Balda, American Seniors Housing Association President David Schless and Association of Jewish Aging Services President and CEO Don Shulman.

“We hope Congress will consider a separate COVID-19 relief package. The temporary extension of some telehealth waiver policies is helpful, but no pandemic aid was included in the omnibus bill. The aid that the sector has received through the Provider Relief Fund has been lifesaving to millions of our residents and has helped thousands of facilities keep their doors open to continue serving our nation’s seniors. While the Provider Relief Fund has been helpful, it has not been enough, and now more than ever, long term sector residents and staff needs the support of the United States Congress,” the American Health Care Association / National Center for Assisted Living told the McKnight’s Business Daily.