We write this letter as healthcare providers on the front lines of the fight against COVID-19. Supplies are scarce, our hospitals are overflowing, and our colleagues, from physicians to lab technicians, – while determined to pour their heart and energy into this fight – are overworked and putting their own lives and their families’ lives at risk every day.
Before this crisis, some parts of the U.S. already faced health care shortages and disparities in access to high-quality health care. Today, in the face of a global pandemic, these shortages are exacerbated.
To increase our ability to successfully fight the spread of COVID-19, we urge you to use your emergency authority to strengthen America’s healthcare workforce by creating emergency pathways for qualified healthcare professionals with international credentials to contribute their immense skills and talents.
The nearly 30% of America’s physicians1 who are also immigrants, refugees, and asylees already play a vital role in helping to combat health care shortages. However, an estimated 165,000 gained undergraduate degrees in healthcare outside the U.S. – including nurses, doctors, physical therapists – but are unable to put their life-saving skills to use.2 Many are unemployed or underemployed in jobs that don’t make use of their life-saving skills. Migration Policy Institute, a nonpartisan think tank, estimates that 8,800 internationally educated immigrant nurses are underemployed in California alone; another 4,400 internationally trained nurses are underemployed in New York and cannot contribute due to licensure and other barriers.3
Governors in several states have already adjusted certain licensing requirements to bolster the pipeline of healthcare workers able to respond to this crisis. For example, the Governors of New Jersey and Nevada issued Executive Orders allowing some immigrant doctors licensed outside the U.S. to join the fight against COVID-19. A number of states have allowed out-of-state licensed healthcare professionals to practice across state lines. Retired physicians and nurses have been asked to volunteer. And temporary emergency licenses have been granted to professionals pending exam or residency completion.
There are other opportunities for meaningful action as well. Immigrants with international health care experience can fill many in-demand public health positions that do not require licensing. For instance, individuals with international credentials can serve as health educators, epidemiologists, biostatisticians, interpreters, community health workers, case surveillance staff, and other roles that are critical to the fight against the spread of COVID-19 in under-served immigrant communities where culturally and linguistically competent services are desperately needed to ensure access to factually accurate information and adequate care.
A successful American response to the COVID-19 pandemic must tap into the talent and ability of all healthcare workers in the U.S. – including immigrants with international training and credentials in a healthcare profession. We urge you to use your executive authority to act now.
1 Immigration & COVID-19, New American Economy Research Fund (March 26, 2020)
2 As U.S. Health-Care System Buckles under Pandemic, Immigrant & Refugee Professionals Could Represent a Critical Resource (April 2020) & COVID-19, New American Economy Research Fund (2019)
3 Migration Policy Institute tabulation of U.S. Census Bureau pooled 2013-2017 American Community Survey data.
Hosted by WES Global Talent Bridge, IMPRINT is a national coalition of organizations active in the emerging field of immigrant professional integration. For more information please contact [email protected].