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Clearing “insurmountable roadblocks” to immigration would help address critical workforce shortages in the senior living industry, an industry leader told the Senate Judiciary subcommittee in response to a Wednesday hearing.

American Seniors Housing Association President and CEO David Schless submitted a statement for the record, writing that immigrants should be given the opportunity “to make a career, a good living and a difference in their own lives and the lives of others.”

Schless told lawmakers that it is critical for them to include “senior living front line, caregiver, in-demand and other essential workers” when considering proposals to address healthcare workforce shortages.

“Senior living plays a significant role in the greater healthcare system, and these workers are key to maintaining the health and well-being of the residents they serve, thereby reducing the need for more critical services or hospitalization,” he wrote.

With workforce shortages exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, Schless said, the crisis will intensify with a flood of expected retirements, workers struggling with childcare needs, and others leaving the sector. And although he called caregivers the “unsung heroes of the American workforce,” Schless said that there simply are not enough native-born workers to meet current and future demand.

“There are numerous nonimmigrant visa categories for people traveling and working in the US, but none of them are suited for the caregiver, dietary aid, medical technician and other critical positions in the long-term care industry,” he said. 

ASHA, Schless noted, supports several policy options that can address the issue, including creating a visa category for frontline long-term care workers, improving the employment authorization process for migrants seeking asylum, expediting work applications, creating pilot programs within the existing H2-B visa category, including long-term care workers in future allocations of unused green cards, and granting Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals recipients and Temporary Protected Status workers permanent legal status.

PHI recently released a report outlining the direct care workforce’s reliance on immigrants. 

A spokeswoman for LeadingAge told McKnight’s Senior Living that the association agrees with Senate Judiciary Chair Dick Durbin’s statement that the shortage of healthcare workers in the nation is a “national emergency.”

“Today, older adults and their families face immediate challenges in accessing essential care and services to remain independent, safe and healthy — in part, due to a massive and growing shortage of professional caregivers,” the LeadingAge spokeswoman said. “Numerous approaches are needed. Immigration reform must be a part of the range of solutions.”

A spokeswoman from the American Health Care Association / National Center for Assisted Living said that the groups were pleased to see Congress addressing this “critically important issue.”

“Immigrants make up a vital part of the long-term care workforce, and our residents benefit from their care and dedication,” the AHCA / NCAL spokeswoman said. “As we continue to face a historic workforce crisis, we need Congress to expand and expedite opportunities for healthcare workers who wish to live and work in the United States, especially those who are willing to care for our nation’s seniors.”

AHCA / NCAL led a recent coalition letter regarding immigration delays. The association also led an effort this spring to provide jobs in long-term care communities to Ukrainian refugees through job training, relocation assistance and support for integrating into local communities.

Argentum Senior Vice President of Public Affairs Maggie Elehwany told McKnight’s Senior Living that the association is working with Capitol Hill on workforce development programming and funding legislation specifically targeting senior living. 

“As part of this effort, we are supportive of common sense immigration reform that would help to alleviate the workforce shortage crisis in our profession,” Elehwany said, adding that Argentum plans to submit comments on the Senate Judiciary hearing. “Immigration reform is a necessary component in the broader mix of new measures needed to meet the increasing demand for long-term care for our nation’s seniors,” she said.

Among the efforts supported by several advocacy groups is the Health Care Workforce Resilience Act, which would recapture unused visas from previous fiscal years for doctors, nurses and their families. This legislation would enable nurses with approved immigrant visas to enter the US, have a durable immigration status and help serve long-term care residents.