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VIDEO: Hirono Urges Immigration Reform to Address Health Care Workforce Strain

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Senator Mazie K. Hirono (D-HI), member of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, Citizenship, and Border Safety, emphasized the need for immigration reform to address the strain caused by the shortage of health care workers in Hawaii and across the country during a Subcommittee hearing. In the hearing, Senator Hirono questioned Dr. Ram Sanjeev Alur, a physician at the Marion Veterans Affairs Medical Center, and Sarah Peterson, an attorney with almost two decades of immigration law experience, about what can be done to alleviate this workforce shortage. 

“If there’s one thing that the pandemic showed, it was the importance of the essential workers, of whom—many of them, of course, our doctors, our nurses, our health care workers—stretched thin to the brink of exhaustion during the two years of the pandemic, and it’s still not over,” said Senator Hirono during the hearing.

As she stressed the urgency that is needed to address this worker shortage, Senator Hirono expressed concern that Hawaii is currently experiencing a shortage of over 700 physicians, and highlighted Governor David Ige’s recent emergency rule that allows out-of-state nurses to temporarily practice in Hawaii without obtaining a license from the state.

“How long can these [health care] systems continue to use the kind of ‘quick patches,’ such as a governor issuing an emergency order, for a problem that needs long-term investment and policy changes,” Senator Hirono asked Dr. Ram Sanjeev Alur, a physician at the Marion Veterans Affairs Medical Center.

“The shortage is already an emergency,” said Dr. Alur. He went on to say that the pandemic placed immense stress on the U.S. health care workforce, which has still not recovered. Dr. Alur also emphasized that rural areas would be disproportionately impacted by this shortage, which is projected to continue.

Hawaii is home to more than 250,000 immigrants, with a significant number of them employed in the health care field—immigrants make up almost half of all health aides, nearly a quarter of all nurses, and about 20 percent of physicians. Nationwide, immigrants account for 18 percent of the 14.7 million health care workers in the U.S.

As a Member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Senator Hirono is working to fix our immigration system and address the health care worker shortage. She is a cosponsor of the Citizenship for Essential Workers Act, which would provide a pathway to citizenship for essential workers, including health care workers, and their immediate families. Senator Hirono is also working with colleagues to recapture unused visas from prior years to fully utilize all the legal immigration slots that Congress intended, visas that could help stabilize our health care system.

A link to download video of the Senator’s full question line is available here.