With the workforce crisis top of mind for most senior living and other long-term care providers, trade associations representing providers are making a last-minute push to float immigration reform to the top of lawmakers’ to-do lists before the end of the year.
LeadingAge sent a letter to leaders in Congress this week urging support for a year-end legislative package that includes immigration reform, to help stabilize the long-term care workforce.
Saying that the field is at a “crisis point,” LeadingAge President and CEO Katie Smith Sloan said that although the country is entering a “new and different” phase of the COVID-19 pandemic, the sector’s workforce situation is not improving.
“In fact, aging services professionals are struggling to recruit workers, and workers are being drawn away by higher wages and more flexible hours in other sectors,” Sloan wrote. “Experts believe staffing shortages and stress on an already burdened healthcare system is expected to get worse in the coming months.”
Jeanne McGlynn Delgado, American Seniors Housing Association vice president of government affairs, told McKnight’s Senior Living that immigration reform must be part of the solution to the workforce shortage.
“The population is aging, people are living longer and will live longer with more chronic conditions,” she said. “Without care providers, the US cannot responsibly care for its seniors. We must look to foreign workers to fill some of these jobs so our seniors can age with the dignity they deserve.”
The American Health Care Association / National Center for Assisted Living echoed those sentiments.
“Immigrants make up a vital part of the long-term care workforce, and our residents benefit from their care and dedication,” an AHCA / NCAL spokeswoman told McKnight’s Senior Living. “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.”
With an intention to focus on creating a sustainable domestic workforce pipeline in the coming year, Sloan said there are “balanced immigration reform policies” that could be enacted this year to bring immediate relief to the industry.
Among the bills LeadingAge is promoting:
- The Citizenship for Essential Workers Act, which would create a pathway to citizenship and permanent residency status for aging services workers deemed “essential” during the COVID-19 public health emergency.
- The Health Care Workforce Resilience Act, which would recapture 40,000 unused employment-based immigrant visas and make them available to foreign nurses and doctors.
- The Workforce for an Expanding Economy Act and the Essential Workers for Economic Advancement Act, which would create a new visa system for long-term care and other industries, allowing employers to hire year-round temporary, nonagricultural workers.
- The Ensuring Caregivers for the Aged and Disabled Act, a draft bill creating a new temporary guest worker H-2 visa program for aging services and organizations serving individuals with disabilities.
Sloan also joined ASHA in urging Congress to find a compromise on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program and those with temporary protected status to provide a path for hundreds of thousands of individuals to remain in the country.
“Given the narrow window of opportunity during the lame duck session and political pressures that will impact the outcome, we believe enacting these policies is a good first step to a more specific and ambitious agenda to create a visa category for senior living frontline workers, which ASHA will prioritize in the 118th Congress,” Delgado said.
Failure to address DACA, TPS and other essential workers, Sloan said, will continue to cause “turmoil” and create an “unstable status” for the more than 10 million immigrants living and working in the United States.
In a Nov. 21 letter to leaders in Congress, ASHA President and CEO David Schless said that an estimated 10 million unfilled jobs in all industries call for workforce solutions. And with 10,000 people turning 65 every day, and with 70% of them projected to need some level of long-term care, he said, it’s “time to look beyond our borders and give immigration reform serious attention.”
In addition to legislative action, Schless urged federal lawmakers to seek administrative remedies to expedite work authorization documents for those now eligible.
“There are thousands of people that are here in the US awaiting worker authorization that can be put to work today,” he wrote.