From Healthcare Professional to Illegal: the Struggle of Foreign Healthcare Workers against the COVID-19.
The world as we know it is currently fighting a pandemic. COVID-19 is a deadly disease that has been ravaging the world since the last week of December in 2019. The disease is characterized by high fever, cough, tiredness, difficulty breathing, and its ability to be transmitted from person to person with amazing rapidity. It is this rapid spread that has created the dire need for healthcare professionals from all areas and from all locations to band together to fight the disease. Front line healthcare workers are exposed directly to patients that have tested positive, greatly increasing their own risk of contracting the disease or taking it home to their families. Most of these workers are also taking on shifts that well exceed the norm lasting over 12 hours in some cases. The emotional toll as well as physical and mental toll that the pandemic has had on workers compounded by the fact that they now have to worry about their work status and their livelihood is simply unacceptable and ultimately heartbreaking.
COVID-19 and Foreign Healthcare Professionals
Many health care professionals are temporary foreign workers. Many of them are Filipinos. These vital workers are experienced, they have the compassion, and they have the desire to do more and to work to help treat this disease.
Foreign healthcare workers that are currently working in the United States are now fighting back against expiring work visas, difficulty meeting deadlines for status and work permits and other time constraints that make it difficult for these critical workers to stay in the United States and continue to fight against a disease that is sure to cause great damage to the country.
Our healthcare system in the United States is already severely overburdened and stretched thin. The removal of these vital foreign healthcare workers would not only create a shortage in bodies to help work the front lines, but also a shortage of the bright and shining minds that they bring to the table. At any given time there are literally thousands of foreign healthcare workers including doctors and other medical professionals in our country and their absence would surely be felt.
Immigrant Status Expiring
Foreign healthcare workers that are spending hours on the frontline working to take care of individuals that are sick or dying are in danger of not retaining their legal status. The reason is that USCIS or Immigration Service has not extended the deadlines.
A suit filed the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) states that the COVID-19 pandemic is what would be considered an extraordinary circumstance that is beyond the control of the employers and the employees and therefore the deadlines should be extended automatically to allow these foreign workers to remain in the United States and continue their current efforts.
These healthcare workers are already dealing with the physical and mental stress that comes with working the front lines of a pandemic, should they really be made to deal with expiring visas and work restrictions as well?
Keep Them Legal
Relaxing immigration policies for foreign healthcare workers is needed to maintain the current number of nurses and doctors in the frontlines. USCIS has the ability and the power to create blanket authorizations to extend the legal status of these foreign workers,
We are currently in a make or break situation. Circumstances are so different, so out of the ordinary and so challenging that we as a people must adapt. Under normal circumstances it would not be necessary to change immigration policies. In times of great challenge it is the nature of people to adapt. Now is the time that the USCIS needs to adapt. These challenges are not likely to go away overnight or even in a matter of weeks. We need to standby our foreign health care workers.
Lazaro Law Group, Managing Attorney