Physical Therapy Workforce — in Desperate Need of Reimagination

Physical Therapy Workforce — in Desperate Need of Reimagination

The often contentious H1-B work visas are used to employ overseas workers across a diversified category of specialty occupations jobs across engineering, science and the tech industry collectively categorized as STEM. Furthermore, healthcare workers including Doctors, Physical Therapists, Occupational Therapists, Speech Therapists, Nurses, Pharmacists, etc., are also employed through H1 -B visas due to the lack of these skilled professionals in the United States of America.

Among these healthcare workers are Physical Therapists and Nurses who have to meet certain education qualifications and also take the licensing exam in the state in which they propose to practice are further classified as Schedule A occupations by the Department of Labour (DOL). The schedule A classification means that employers hiring these guest workers are allowed to skip a PERM Labor Certification process because the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has established that there are not sufficient qualified workers, and the employment of foreign-born workers in such occupations will not adversely affect the wages and working conditions of similarly employed U.S workers.

THE US Department of Labor (DOL) indicates that employment of Physical Therapists is expected to “grow much faster than average” of all occupations through 2026. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) based on current trends there could be a shortage of 26,000 physical therapists by 2025. According to research published in the American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation on the basis of current trends, demand for PT services will outpace the supply of PTs within the United States. Shortages are expected to increase for all 50 states through 2030. This is likely to make it far more difficult for Americans, particularly seniors, to find Physical Therapists in a timely manner in the coming years.

These foreign-born Physical Therapists who have spent many years acquiring education qualifications and licensing to serve Americans across the country are often indentured servitude as they are forced to remain on temporary non-immigrant visas as they are entangled in US immigration policies that makes it impossible for them to acquire a
permanent long term residency and a path to citizenship. Particularly for therapists from populous countries like India and China who have to endure wait times up to 20 years and sometimes upto 150 years, simply because there aren’t enough green cards available.

Stringent immigration rules, along with increasing visa restrictions and bans have been threatening to crush the spirits of many of these workers. An uncertain future beholds these workers most of them who are at the front-line of COVID-19 crises often working with patients putting their lives at risk. While these workers are battling the virus, their family members have to face the possibility of not being able to see them again, In the event of a
worker succumbing on the COVID-19 battleground, not only do their dependents have to face the loss of sometimes their sole breadwinners of the family but also face the prospect of having to self-deport themselves and leave the country with nowhere to go.

This country owes them more, not just to these foreign workers, but also to the aging baby boomers who are staying active later in life and are more susceptible to health conditions that may require Physical Therapy. It is estimated that in the coming years, over 20 percent of the U.S. population is expected to be 65 or older.

In an election year, amidst battling a global pandemic and a looming economic recession what can the lawmakers really accomplish?

What makes immigration more challenging to fix is the fact that legislators are caught in between pushing a comprehensive immigration reform (CIR) or addressing piecemeal immigration issues. The real debate is not if the United States needs more immigrants, but the agonizing journey through which the current (and future) immigrants are being forced to navigate through to protect themselves and their families.

The US congress has introduced a plethora of Immigration related bills most of them addressing piecemeal immigration issues with Bipartisan support; most notable ones including S.3599 – Healthcare Workforce Resilience Act sponsored by Sen. David Perdue from Atlanta and has 36 co-sponsors. The bill aims to recapture around 40,000 unused immigrant visas over the years and allocate them to the nurse and physician workforce.

While the skepticism remains, the immigrant community clings on to any hope that might bring a long due overhaul to the immigration system. Meanwhile If you need the service of a physical therapist or a healthcare worker or a physician and cannot get an appointment in a timely manner then you know what to do.

Call your US representative and senator offices and ask them about the various measures they support, or are working with their colleagues on both sides of the aisle, because only a true bipartisan bill can fix this.

-Harsha Sanku

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