How Trump’s Immigration Policies Left Us Short of Healthcare Workers

How Trump’s Immigration Policies Left Us Short of Healthcare Workers

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A month removed from the first recorded casualty of COVID-19 in the United States, it’s clear that President Trump and his administration significantly underestimated the severity of this virus and were ill-prepared to respond to its outbreak. Instead of adhering to the recommendations of scientists and public health experts, Trump publicly doubted the seriousness of the virus, trafficked in conspiracy theories, and sought to turn the global pandemic into a partisan political wedge issue. Instead of rising to the challenge of protecting our country, he predictably fell into his tired routines.

Trump’s malfeasance didn’t just weaken our preparedness—it’s actively crippling our ability to combat the greatest global pandemic in a century right at this very moment. Because of the restrictionist immigration policies of this president, we are fighting the coronavirus without the healthcare professionals we need to treat our sick and beat this virus.

Legal immigration has declined by over 12 percent under President Trump, exacerbating an existing healthcare worker shortage. Lawful permanent resident admittances dropped to 1,030,990 in 2019 from 1,183,505 the year before he took office. Trump’s hardline immigration policies have left us short hundreds of thousands of immigrants and substantially worsened our healthcare worker crisis, leaving hospitals across the country significantly understaffed and ill-equipped to effectively treat patients. Heading into 2020, there was a projected shortfall of roughly 15,000 to 22,500 primary care doctors and over one million nurses. And that was before COVID-19 began to push our hospitals and nursing facilities to their outermost limits.

Foreign-born doctors and nurses primarily arrive in the United States on H-1B, J-1, and EB-3 visas. All three are granted to highly trained and skilled workers who fill critical talent and employment gaps in our economy. Yet from the early days of his presidency, Trump has targeted the programs under the guise of “saving American jobs,” and made it much harder to receive an H-1B visa.  As a result, denial rates for H-1B petitions have increased significantly, from 6 percent in 2015 to nearly 25 percent in 2020. And EB-3 visas are down from some countries as much as 33 percent since 2015. Instead of fighting a chronic workforce shortage in our healthcare system, Trump has actively championed an immigration agenda that’s exacerbating it.   

The president has also directed his attention towards attacked immigrants who are already here, threatening to deport critical healthcare workers working in hospitals and nursing facilities today. One-in-four direct-care workers are foreign-born, and the majority arrived under the temporary protected status (TPS) program, which allows individuals from countries affected by war and natural disaster to work in the United States. Despite facing a massive primary care worker shortage, Trump has spent the last two years steadily terminating temporary protected status, placing more than 35,000 healthcare workers in the facilities that are most susceptible to the pandemic at risk of deportation. The shameful truth is that while scores of brave immigrant healthcare workers risk and sacrifice their lives every day to save our fellow Americans, the President is actively seeking to kick them out of the country—for no reason except spite.

As we’ve experienced throughout the history of our country, immigrants make America better and stronger. Our current administration’s actions around immigration do not reflect that truth—and they are not allowing us to effectively combat this virus. Instead of seeing the value that immigrants bring to our country and the crucial role they are playing now in a moment of national crisis, President Trump instead doubled down on his typical anti-immigrant agenda, to the detriment of the Americans losing their lives to this virus every single day.   

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