Senior living and skilled nursing provider organizations joined forces last week to ask the State Department to prioritize foreign-trained nurse and healthcare worker immigrant visas to help address the industry’s staffing crisis.

In an Aug. 30 letter to the state department, executives from 11 long-term care-related associations — including the American Health Care Association / National Center for Assisted Living, the American Seniors Housing Association, Argentum, LeadingAge and AMDA–The Society for Post-Acute and Long Term Care Medicine — pointed to an immigrant visa prioritization update issued on April 30, saying the guidance placed nurses and other skilled healthcare professionals in the lowest priority tier for the visa authorization process. 

As a result, the groups said, this “desperately needed population of foreign-trained immigrant healthcare workers and nurses” is facing significant delays in entering the country. One-sixth of the healthcare workforce is foreign-born, according to the letter. 

Although staffing shortages plagued the industry before COVID-19, the pandemic’s strain on the nation’s healthcare system exacerbated them, the associations wrote.

“This workforce shortage is directly affecting the ability of our members to provide their patients and communities with the utmost care they are entitled to receive,” the letter read. The organizations asked for an update to the Immigrant Visa Prioritization guidelines to prioritize these workers to enter the United States and “provide quality care for our patients and residents.”

The request follows an announcement by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services last month that the cap had been reached for the number of H-2B visas granted to workers for temporary work. Such workers could be employed as short-term personal care aides, nursing assistants and home health aides.

The senior living industry also is backing proposed legislation that would create a new visa classification to provide year-round temporary visas for workers in the industry.

The Aug. 30 letter also was signed by Lutheran Services in America, the Association of Jewish Aging Services, the National Association of State Veterans Homes, the Jewish Federations of North America, the American Network of Community Options and Resources, and the Pediatric Complex Care Association.