Facing a national nursing shortage of 150,000, hospitals received some respite in May when President Bush signed legislation freeing up to 50,000 visas for foreign nurses.
The proposal, included in an $80 billion supplemental appropriations law, frees up visas unused from 2001 to 2004 when heightened concerns about terror created changes in immigration policies that in turn led to a logjam of visa applicants and delays in processing them.
Only a certain number of visas are issued each year, limited both in total and per country. Unused visas cannot be carried over from year to year.
"We're doing all we can here to grow our own supply of U.S. nurses, but the current workforce shortage and the growing demand for care mean that many hospitals must look outside the U.S. for highly qualified RNs," says Carla Luggiero, senior associate director of federal relations at the American Hospital Association.
Despite the availability of the visas, the level of relief it will provide to hospitals is viewed by those in the industry to be minor. "It is certainly not a solution. The nursing shortage is pretty vast," Luggiero says.