Immigrant workers could ease staffing shortages at rural hospitals


States with lower numbers of immigrant workers often have high numbers of rural hospitals.

Of the 39 states with a below-average percentage of immigrant healthcare workers in 2021, 28 had 40% or more hospitals classified as rural, with 21 having more than 50%, according to data from the Migration Policy Institute and hospital cost reports.

Related: Pause on visa applications thwarting recruitment efforts

The American Hospital Association last year warned that rural hospitals face significant workforce shortages. Increasing immigration can be one way to ease staffing pressures, said Matt Wolf, director and healthcare senior analyst at RSM US.

While hospital employment is above prepandemic levels, he said demand for services is growing faster than hiring rates.

States have little control over federal immigration policy. The State Department’s Bureau of Consular Affairs recently announced a pause in processing visa applications, likely resulting in longer wait times and arrival delays for international clinicians.

But Jeanne Batalova, senior policy analyst for the Migration Policy Institute, said states can still make a difference in recruiting immigrants to areas where they’re most needed.

“It’s the states, not the federal government, that control licensure for most professions, so it’s in the states’ power to affect the supply and access to immigrant healthcare professionals,” she said. 


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