Imagine the shock and anger Canadian nurses working at Michigan hospitals felt earlier this month when border security officers stopped them from entering the U.S. because of changes to their working visas under President Trump's new immigration policies.
Take, for example, a newly hired Canadian employee who tried to start her job at Detroit's Henry Ford Hospital, but was turned away at the border between Detroit and Windsor, Ontario, according to a CBC News report. She was told advanced practice nurses and nurse anesthetists no longer qualify for working visas because of shifts in U.S. immigration policy under President Trump.
"All of the immigration executive orders and all the things being rolled out have been focused on national security first, and this is clearly not an issue of national security whatsoever," says Marc Topoleski, an immigration attorney who works for a law firm being retained by the hospital.
All Canadian nurses working in the United States have non-immigrant NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) Professional (TN) visas. An estimated 30,000 to 40,000 Canadians work in the United States with TN visas, which permit experts in certain fields — economics and science, for example — if they have a job offer. At present, only advanced practice nurses and nurse anesthetists are being refused entry.
Henry Ford Hospital has hundreds of Canadians on staff, including about 30 advanced practice nurses or nurse anesthetists with TN visas. The nurses have been advised they need to apply for H-1B visa status, which is a separate category under NAFTA for more specialized employment. Those applications can cost $3,000 to $4,000 per applicant, says Mr. Topoleski.
"My very big concern with this is that I may get turned away at the border tomorrow and not be able to do my job, which I do love," Patti Kunkel, a Canadian who works as an acute-care nurse practitioner for Henry Ford Hospital, told The Detroit News. "That will also put a lot of stress on my current team that I work with because we are already in a critical shortage in the care of our patients."
Other policy changes recently announced by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services will suspend a fast-track program for processing H-1B applications as of April 3. Standard application processes for work visas could take 6 months or more, said Mr. Topoleski, adding that long wait times could leave hospitals in need of specialty nurses desperately short staffed.
Mr. Topoleski told The Detroit News he has heard from attorneys in other border states — specifically Washington — who have experienced similar situations.
"Their livelihood is at stake," he added. "All they've been doing is just coming here and helping Americans get better by providing patient care."