by Chris Musillo

The last few years have seen a declining American economy, dramatically reduced hiring numbers, and a Congress that has proven incapable to lead the country on badly needed immigration reform. Still, thanks to declining demand for H-1B numbers from the IT community, there are some signs that the worst may be over for healthcare immigration. There may even be a chance for positive healthcare immigration for nurses, although not where it is most needed.

Although the 112th Congress is divided and that usually means gridlocked legislation initiatives, a coalition of like-minded Senators and Congressman may be able pass long-needed legislation aimed at solving one obvious staffing shortage in the healthcare industry - nursing.

Nursing is the largest professional occupation in healthcare. While the nursing shortage has abated in many areas in the US, most economists predict the reemergence of the nursing shortage in the near term. Thursday's jobs' news was mixed. The positive news was that the unemployment number fell to 9.4%, which is the lowest percentage in 18 months.

Might the 112th Congress consider a nurse visa bill aimed at reducing the 5-6 year wait for an immigrant nurse to enter the US? Perhaps. But the better chance is that the Congress looks to restore the H-1C visa, which provides badly-needed visas for 14 of the direst healthcare facilities. Rep. Lamar Smith, who is the forthcoming Chair of the Judiciary Committee, represents South Texas, near where several of the 14 facilities are located. With some advocacy, it is possible that the H-1C could be slightly amended to liberalize a revived H-1C.

For specialty occupation allied healthcare positions that require a bachelor degree for entry into the position, such as Physical Therapists, Occupational Therapists, Speech Language Pathologists, the IT industry's minimal usage of H-1B numbers looks to continue in 2011. Coupled with increasing opportunities for EB-2 immigrant visas, and notably faster labor certification times, prospects remain bright for applicants in these occupations in 2011.

While a revived H-1C and more opportunities for H-1Bs are not as desired an increase to the EB-3 retrogression-driven quota, these factors may make 2011 a better year for applicants and employers than the last few.

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