April 27, 2020 Feature

Little-Known Option May Help Immigrating Seniors

Elizabeth Ricci

Today’s precarious immigration climate presents challenges to both my foreign clients and American neighbors for different reasons.

Based in the Sunshine State, I often consult Canadian seniors who wish to retire here. To do so, however, requires some form of sponsorship or significant investment. Besides, the temporary nature of the tourist visa isn’t practical for those looking for full-time relocation. And the “silver card,” a visa that would have allowed wealthy seniors to retire in the United States, never materialized.

President Trump has proposed a point-based system to allow immigration to the United States. But it doesn’t afford any points to those over the age of 50. Therein lies the rub.

The Answer: Rely on Special Skills

A solution for some, however, may be self-sponsorship for permanent residency (also called a green card) through a little-known avenue known as the national interest waiver, which is my area of specialty.

Through the NIW, an alien with an advanced degree whose work has substantial merit and is in the national interest is well-positioned to continue that work. Success requires convincing immigration authorities that it would benefit the United States to waive the traditional case requirements, which results in a green card without an employer, family petitioner, or any investment at all.

I recommended the NIW to Chris Kasprowicz, a 67-year-old Polish-Canadian mechanical engineer. He said, “I detailed my engineering accomplishments and explained that I wanted to work part-time as a consultant. Within about six months, my wife and I had our green cards.”

My other NIW successes include a retired data scientist from Quebec, an English-magazine editor, a Venezuelan ergonomist, and dozens of other professionals from around the world.

American Retirees Need Help

It’s not just foreigners who need unique solutions, however. American retirees do, too.

The supply of health care workers in the United States is far outweighed by the demands of the 47 million Americans over 65. Foreigners make up more than half of all geriatricians, 15 percent of registered nurses, and about 17 percent of America’s home health workers, according to the Center for American Progress.

Yet physicians holding the J-1 visa must generally practice in underserved areas or return to their home country. Other foreign physicians find themselves in limbo due to the uncertainty of employment authorization.

RNs, on the other hand, are generally ineligible for the H-1B visa and face the conundrum that some states require valid immigration status for licensure, while the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services requires state licensure to secure status. Additionally, there’s no visa whatsoever specifically for home-health workers.

These hurdles can result in delays in health care, family members leaving the workforce to care for loved ones, or others breaking the law to hire undocumented caretakers.

Twyla Sketchley, a Florida board-certified elder law attorney who also practices in Tallahassee, argues, “Congress needs to find a way to allow qualified foreign health care workers to care for our aging population.Otherwise, the costs of care will increase exponentially, leaving many elderly with no way to pay for necessary and life-sustaining care.”

Our current immigration policies make it difficult for retirees to live out their golden years without hurdles. Hiring an experienced immigration attorney may resolve some challenges, but comprehensive legislative reform is necessary to attract foreign retirees and properly provide for our own senior citizens.


Elizabeth Ricci

Elizabeth Ricci is managing partner at Rambana & Ricci, an immigration law firm in Tallahassee, Fla., where she specializes in complex immigration matters.