The COVID-19 pandemic has put a spotlight on the importance of immigrants to medical research and health-care in the U.S.
More than 11,000 immigrants on H-1B visas and green cards are working on treatments and vaccines for COVID-19 at major major biotech and pharmaceutical companies in the U.S., according to a new analysis by the Cato Institute.
The Cato Institute analyzed 10 years of data from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Foreign Labor Certification. It found that eight major U.S. companies working on a coronavirus vaccine or treatment have received approvals to hire more than 11,000 foreign workers with H-1B visas or green cards from 2010 through 2019.
The eight U.S. companies are Gilead Sciences, Moderna Therapeutics, GlaxoSmithKline, Inovio, Johnson and Johnson Pharmaceuticals, Regeneron, Vir Therapeutics, and Sanofi. Most of the hiring has taken place in the past three years.
Biochemists, biophysicists, chemists, and other scientists made up most of those hired over the last decade by the eight companies. They were followed by statisticians, and individuals in computer, database, and software support fields.
Although the Cato Institute focused on H-1B visas and green cards, other visa options exist for biotech and other research companies to hire international scientific and engineering talent. Options include:
- O-1A visas, which allow employers to hire individuals with extraordinary ability in sciences, business, and other fields. The eligibility requirements for an O-1A are more stringent than for an H-1B. However, O-1A visas have no annual cap and allow for unlimited renewals.
- L-1B visas allow employers with an office outside of the U.S. to transfer employees with specialized knowledge to the U.S. as long as those employees have worked in that overseas office for 12 months or more. No annual quotas exist for L-1 visas and these visas can lead to a green card.
- J-1 visas can be used for eligible foreign researchers. Most employers cannot directly sponsor a researcher for a J-1 visa, which is a work-and-study visitor exchange program. However, employers could work with one of the public and private sponsor organizations designated by the U.S. State Department to supervise the exchange programs and application process.
Inventors and Health-Care Workers
According to a 2013 report from the Partnership for a New American Economy, immigrants are major contributors to drug therapies and other inventions. At the top 10 patent producing universities in the U.S., 79 percent of drug or drug compound patents had a foreign-born inventor. For molecular biology and microbiology patents, that figure was 75 percent.
And immigrants make up a substantial share of the health-care workers in the U.S. A study published last year in Health Affairs, a peer-reviewed healthcare journal, found that immigrants made up 18.2 percent of the 12.7 million health-care workers in the U.S. Although legal noncitizen immigrants accounted for 5.2 percent of the U.S. population, they made up 9.0 percent of direct-care workers. While naturalized citizens made up 6.8 percent of the U.S. population, they accounted for 13.9 percent of direct-care workers.
Nearly one in four doctors in the U.S. is an immigrant, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges. These doctors cannot easily transfer their visas to practice at hospitals where the demand is the greatest due to COVID-19. USCIS has closed its offices to the public and has effectively cut back services. Moreover, travel restrictions and the suspension of routine visa processing at U.S. embassies and consulates are impacting international medical students and doctors scheduled to begin their residencies at U.S. hospitals.
We’re Available to Help
Reach out to us if you or an employee working in the U.S. needs assistance with a visa extension or other immigration matter. The Alcorn Immigration Law team is working remotely from home, but we’re available to help.