pencil on immigration form
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New federal plans to strengthen the country’s immigrant workforce might bring the long-term care sector one step closer to alleviating its workforce shortage. But some wonder whether the plans go far enough.

US Citizenship and Immigration Services announced a strategic plan on Friday.

Skilled nursing, assisted living and home health providers have been pushing various policy reforms, such as increasing workforce visas in the immigration system, boosting capacity in education and jobs programs, promoting long-term care careers in high schools, and getting licensing agencies to be quicker and more efficient. In a letter to congressional leaders in December, LeadingAge President and CEO Katie Smith Sloan called for “balanced immigration reform policies that could be enacted … that can help to bring immediate relief to older adults and the aging services workforce.”

The strategic plan highlights three long-term goals focused on increasing access to the nation’s immigration system:

  1. Promoting and improving the naturalization process;
  2. Attracting, recruiting, developing and retaining an effective USCIS workforce; and
  3. Creating a culture of diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility; ensuring fiscal solvency; and continuing modernization efforts that introduce additional online filing options.

“We are encouraged by any and all efforts to improve efficiencies in the system that will improve the adjudication of petitions, accelerate processing of asylees and support the resettlement of refugees and grant work permits so these people will have a way to make a living. We are cautiously optimistic that this will help with work permits, which are significantly backlogged,” Jeanne McGlynn Delgado, vice president of government affairs at the American Seniors Housing Association, told the McKnight’s Business Daily. “The real solution, however, must come from congressional action.

Delgado said the current system provides “no viable visa category for the front line, essential workers in our senior living communities; i.e., caregivers, dining staff, housekeepers, nurses aides, etc.”

Currently 14 million Americans are long-term care residents, and that number is expected to double by 2050 as the Baby Boom generation — those born between 1946 to 1964 — ages. The oldest boomers will turn 77 this year, although the youngest are still in their late 50s.

“The senior living industry is facing an unprecedented shortage of workers, which will only intensify going forward given the characteristics of the US aging population. People are living longer and requiring more care,” Delgado said. “Without an adequate workforce to care for these seniors, much is at risk. The immigration system needs to be reformed to reflect these needs.”

Delgado noted that, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of home health and personal care aides is projected to grow 33% from 2020 to 2030, which is much faster than the average for all occupations.

“There are simply not enough US workers to take care of the increasing elderly population,” she said.