Winter is a busy time for impromptu hospital visits, whether from slipping on icy sidewalks or throwing out one’s back while shoveling snow. Then there’s the winter crud, which this year is particularly virulent. The CDC has reported that hospitalizations are up for influenza by 51 percent, 200 percent for COVID-19, and a 60 percent jump in RSV infections. Unfortunately, a shortage of nurses and other skilled healthcare workers could mean longer patient wait times.

The healthcare industry nationwide is in the thick of what is now termed the “Great Resignation.” Nearly half of American healthcare workers actively seek alternative employment opportunities, leaving patients with reduced access to healthcare providers and increased costs for services.

Because of this shortage of skilled healthcare workers, patients endure longer wait times in emergency rooms and urgent-care facilities and for crucial services like imaging, labs, exams, and routine or surgical procedures.

Patients deserve prompt access to quality care without delays in matters as critical as health and well-being. No one should have to endure long wait times at a medical facility.

We need more skilled healthcare workers throughout the United States. Still, we can’t sit on our hands and wait for the next generation of students to graduate and enter the workforce. Instead, America needs to tap into a global pool of skilled workers eager to contribute their talents immediately.

Unfortunately, bureaucratic hurdles in the form of visa labor caps exacerbate the labor deficit. Adding to the complexity is retrogression, a process that causes delays in visa processing as the annual visa limit approaches. These barriers make it increasingly difficult to fulfill America’s labor demand, ultimately leaving consumers feeling the pinch.

The crux of the issue lies in the caps and quotas imposed on employment-based visas for international skilled workers. These visa quotas have seen minimal adjustments to accommodate the modern economy, which has more than tripled in size since the quotas were created in 1990. The annual visa cap is set at 140,000, yet the unused employment-based visas reached 65,000 by the end of fiscal year 2021 due to processing capacity constraints. This problem has compounded, with 4.5 million unused employment-based visas since 1922.

The complexity of the system and the financial burdens associated with securing an employment-based visa add immensely to the challenges of entry. The complex application and approval process alone can take up to three years, and capacity constraints at Citizenship and Immigration Services create application backlogs and additional delays.

Countries such as the Philippines, with a significant population of nurses seeking to alleviate the healthcare shortage in the United States, experience lengthy wait times and high costs for their applications.

To address the repercussions patients face from labor shortages, the country must substantially increase the number of visas to at least 420,000 granted to skilled workers willing to help fill the gap. This move would be a boon for the healthcare industry and, most important, patients nationwide.

Unclaimed visas from previous years should be leveraged to bridge the gap quickly, ensuring that future labor shortages do not negatively affect American consumers. This would also help deter retrogression and eliminate unnecessary barriers. Politically, allowing unused visas to be rolled over and used to fill critical gaps could have bipartisan support. Economically, it alleviates labor market shortfalls and rewards migrants seeking to migrate via legal channels.

Patients need the gift of care. Policymakers have the power to give it by initiating visa labor cap reform. This would ensure that Americans spend less time in waiting rooms.