As senior living and other long-term care providers continue to face severe workforce shortages, advocacy groups report being encouraged by recent steps taken by the Biden administration to address immigration.

The White House unveiled a new immigration policy Jan. 5 that it said will increase security at the Southwest border as well as expand legal pathways for immigration.

“This has the possibility to be a win-win for aging services,” said Andrea Price-Carter, LeadingAge director of workforce and technology policy, told McKnight’s Senior Living. “It expands the pipeline of potential workers and ensures those who become beneficiaries with a job, along with other supportive services.”

The Department of Homeland Security announced the expanded “Venezuela Parole” program to three additional countries. The program allows up to 30,000 nationals per month from Venezuela, Cuba, Haiti and Nicaragua to request advance authorization for travel and temporary parole for up to two years in the US, including work authorization.

Under the program, parolees must have a US supporter to provide financial and other support, including housing and basic necessities, help with employment authorization paperwork, and healthcare and medical needs. Organizations, businesses and other entities also must help beneficiaries with learning the English language, enrolling any children in school and securing employment. Organizations can fill out an online request to serve as supporters. 

Once granted parole, nationals can apply for employment authorization and request a Social Security number.

The American Seniors Housing Association said the program has “tremendous potential to yield significant benefits to those desperately seeking refuge from oppressive regimes and the US employers who desperately need workers that will, in turn, improve the economic security of this country.”

Expanding population to fill jobs

With 10 million unfilled jobs across the nation and a 3.5% unemployment rate, ASHA said, the US needs to expand the population to fill these jobs.

ASHA Vice President of Government Affairs Jeanne McGlynn Delgado noted that an estimated 250,000 jobs in assisted living communities and nursing homes have been lost since the beginning of the pandemic. Demand for caregivers is expected to grow 33% by 2030 — faster than the average for all occupations, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics — and people are living longer and with a higher number of chronic conditions.

Delgado and ASHA President and CEO David Schless said that the parole expansion is a “positive step toward reform.”

“It is not perfect and will require much navigation by the private sector to support and employ these asylum-seekers in search of a better future,” they said in a joint statement. “However, it signals that meaningful reform can be achieved to address the workforce shortage, especially for those essential workers, such as caregivers and nurses, who are in short supply and essential to the overall health of our aging population and nation.”

The Essential Workers Immigration Coalition — of which ASHA, Argentum, the American Health Care Association / National Center for Assisted Living, and LeadingAge are members — on Tuesday called on Congress to enact greater reform to address worker shortages in essential jobs, including guest worker programs. EWIC members said that a key component of successful immigration reform is the creation of a visa program that meets the workforce needs of the economy. According to EWIC, current immigration law largely prevents the hiring of essential workers in most of the US economic sectors.

ASHA has urged Congress to pass legislation “that works for Americans, immigrants and the US business industries” in desperate need of workers, particularly in the long-term care industry.

Reform can stabilize workforce

Argentum similarly told McKnight’s Senior Living that it supports efforts to reform immigration policies as a way to help stem the workforce crisis.

“The latest development with the White House policy proposals shows promise, notably with provisions to expand refugee and visa programs to offer more opportunities for legal immigration,” said Maggie Elehwany, Argentum senior vice president of public affairs. “We have long supported efforts to bring more immigrants into the country, while at the same time maintaining safety checks for potential workers and other provisions to ensure legal immigration is safe immigration.”

During the last Congress, ASHA pushed for action on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, Temporary Protected Status Program and other essential worker reforms that can mitigate worker shortages.

LeadingAge sent a letter to congressional leaders last month urging support for immigration reform to help stabilize the long-term care workforce, including several immigration bills that the association said would create a sustainable domestic workforce pipeline.