Immigration reform is at a critical moment

By | March 5, 2021

Even before the pandemic, the United States was facing critical shortages of healthcare practitioners. A recent study by the Association of American Medical Colleges estimates the country could experience a shortage of 54,100 to 139,000 physicians by 2033. Another study found that, in 2018, there was an average of 27 open healthcare practitioner jobs in the U.S. for every one available and unemployed healthcare practitioner.

Visa restrictions, burdensome licensing laws, and immigration backlogs, both on those seeking to come to the U.S., as well as for those who are already here, are exacerbating the issue. H1-B visa holder and Indiana resident Dr. Vasu Voleti recently wrote about her experience. Despite the tremendous need amid the pandemic, she still was not allowed to treat patients anywhere other than at the hospital where she was employed.

These kinds of restrictions are keeping an estimated 263,000 immigrants in the U.S. with healthcare-related college degrees from being able to use their training and skills during this crisis and beyond. It’s a human tragedy on both sides, for providers and patients alike.

This is just one important example of the conversation Congress has to have about immigration in the coming months, above and beyond the usual discussion about preventing the deportation of childhood arrivals through the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

President Biden has made immigration a priority, but the White House cannot and should not act alone.

DACA is a good place to start because it is popular. An incredible 77% say immigration is good for the country, and 78% say DACA recipients should be allowed to remain in the U.S. Also, a federal court in Texas could force Congress’s hand, giving the issue an immediacy it has sometimes lacked.

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And virtually every “Dreamer” in the DACA program, a whopping 96%, is either working or going to school. That equates to nearly 400,000 recipients being employed, contributing $ 10.8 billion in revenue to the federal budget.

Throughout our nation’s rich history, immigrants have been essential partners alongside native-born Americans in building our nation and expanding opportunity and prosperity for all. More than half of America’s billion-dollar startups were founded by immigrants. Among Fortune 500 companies, 45% were founded by immigrants or their children.

Companies that have played a key role in helping Americans continue to prosper during the COVID-19 pandemic were founded (Zoom and Pfizer) or co-founded (Uber/Uber Eats and Moderna) by immigrants. These businesses help people and create jobs and opportunities for everyone else. Do we want the next innovative idea or business started here or abroad?

Immigrants, many working alongside American entrepreneurs and inventors, account for one-third of patents filed and more than one-third of U.S. workers with a Ph.D. in one of the STEM subjects of science, technology, engineering, and math.

And a recent study found that one in five essential workers amid the pandemic is an immigrant, equating to about 23 million people. Yet, more than 20% of those workers are illegal immigrants and could face deportation. About 1 million are DACA recipients.

We should not accept repeated failures to reform and update our immigration system when vast majorities of people agree on what needs to happen. A new administration and a new Congress present a chance to get the job done.

Daniel Garza is president of The LIBRE Initiative.

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Healthcare