IMPRINT: Immigrant Professional Integration

Executive Orders in Several States Open Doors for Internationally Trained Healthcare Professionals to Put Their Life-Saving Skills to Use

In response to urgent healthcare staffing shortages in this time of critical need, IMPRINT members have been working with governors across the country to bolster the pipeline of healthcare workers available to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Data shows a robust talent pool of internationally trained healthcare professionals is poised to contribute their life-saving skills. According to the Migration Policy Institute, there are 165,000 internationally trained healthcare professionals living in the U.S. who have been unable to put their experience and skills to use because of barriers to employment. A recent Upwardly Global survey of 130 internationally trained healthcare professionals showed that nearly 95% were ready to join the frontlines in the fight against COVID-19.

Internationally trained healthcare professionals bring skills that are especially relevant to the current crisis. According to Jina Krause-Vilmar, President & CEO of Upwardly Global, “some have fought past pandemics or worked in crisis conditions—like war or natural disaster.” Krause-Vilmar added that Upwardly Global’s clients are ready and willing to serve if given an opportunity and hopes “that more governors will see the potential in this talent pool and look at options to build licensing practices that allow them to contribute their skills.”

To date, five states have taken steps to allow healthcare workers who gained experience outside the U.S. to join the frontlines against the pandemic. In Nevada, Governor Sisolak issued an executive order authorizing the waiver of licensing requirements for a wide range of medical services providers with training from another country, including doctors, nurses, and behavioral health pressionals. Similarly, in New Jersey, Governor Murphy used his emergency authority to issue an executive order allowing some doctors licensed outside the U.S. to join the fight against COVID-19, provided they have at least five years of clinical experience and have practiced within the past five years. In Colorado, Governor Polis issued an executive order creating pathways for internationally trained nurses and doctors to provide healthcare services in response to the pandemic.

Other states, including New York and Massachusetts, have permitted international medical graduates to gain an emergency licenses before completing their U.S. residencies. With support from dozens of lawmakers and leaders in the business community, Governor Baker issued an executive order allowing international medical graduates to practice in the U.S. after completing two years their three-year residency programs.  New York Governor Cuomo has used his emergency authority to allow international medical graduates to care for COVID-19 patients after one year of residency.

In the face of COVID-19, the health care shortages and disparities in access to high-quality health care already challenging underserved areas of the U.S. have been exacerbated. “We now know the devastating impact COVID-19 is having on communities of color, including immigrants,” said Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition executive director Eva Millona. “Internationally trained medical professionals possess the linguistic skills and cultural competency to assist where help is most needed, and we must do more to ensure they can enter the healthcare workforce.”

In response to the executive order issued by Governor Polis allowing internationally trained healthcare professionals to treat COVID-19 patients, Paula Schriefer, President and CEO of the Spring Institute in Colorado praised the move, affirming that “now is the time to tap into this pool of considerable expertise we so desperately need.”

José Ramón Fernández-Peña, MD, MPA, director of the Welcome Back Initiative noted, “in addition to licensed clinical positions, internationally trained health professionals can also serve many public health roles that are critical to the fight against the spread of COVID-19, especially in underserved immigrant communities where culturally and linguistically appropriate services are essential to ensure access to timely and accurate information.”

Tapping into the talents and abilities of all healthcare workers in the U.S.—including immigrants and refugees with international training and credentials in healthcare professions—will prove decisive in tackling the monumental challenges brought on by this global pandemic.


You can view these policies and other COVID-19-related policy updates on IMPRINT’s Policy Map.

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