Immigrant cancer researchers saving American lives

Many individuals in the cancer field work in H-1B status at some point in their careers, note hospital officials. In practical terms, that means if the conditions placed on H-1B visas become too restrictive, it could harm efforts to treat Americans afflicted with cancer. In addition to physicians, cancer institute officials say there is much important work being done by foreign nationals working in H-1B status as research technicians, information technology specialists and lab technologists.

Cancer researchers experience many of the same problems faced by other employment-based immigrants. Previous research our organization has done shows that wait times range from six years to a decade or more for many highly skilled immigrants, particularly those from India and China due to the per-country limit.

If one polled Americans on which immigrants they would most like to see admitted to the country, it is likely cancer researchers would be at the top of the list. The new report documents a previously unknown benefit of immigration, namely that immigrants play a key role in helping Americans survive cancer. But the research raises another issue: If it is so difficult even for cancer researchers who make life-saving medical breakthroughs to obtain green cards, then the need to reform the nation’s immigration system is likely more urgent than we thought.

Stuart Anderson served as executive associate commissioner for policy and counselor to the commissioner of the Immigration and Naturalization Service from August 2001 to January 2003 and is executive director of the National Foundation for American Policy, a nonpartisan research group based in Arlington, Va.