President Donald Trump’s plan to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) immigration program could reduce the number of workers available to the senior living industry during an already worrying labor shortage, industry experts agree.
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced on September 5 that the administration will end the Obama-era program that protects about 800,000 adults—usually called “DREAMers,” after a proposed law that was not passed—from deportation. United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is no longer accepting new applications for the program, and those looking to renew their DACA status for a final extension are scrambling to meet the October 5 deadline.*
The move is taking place amid other Trump administration efforts to curb immigration and reduce the number of jobs going to foreign-born workers. It also comes at a time when the senior living industry is in dire need of employees—a problem that immigrant workers could help solve.
“Anything that curtails the ability of our immigrant workforce to stay intact is problematic,” Lynne Katzmann, president and CEO of Bloomfield, New Jersey-based Juniper Communities, tells Senior Housing News. “They form a critical part of our community teams. Without them, the labor shortage we all face will only worsen.”
Senior living’s diverse workforce
About one quarter of direct care workers are immigrants, according to research released in June by the Paraprofessional Healthcare Institute (PHI), a New York City-based nonprofit that aims to improve services for older adults.
In the senior living industry, many first-generation immigrants—including DREAMers—are dedicated, hard workers, Katzmann notes.
It’s employees like these that could help fill the ranks in years to come. Recent projections show that the senior living industry will require many more workers in the near future to keep up with demand.
A recent study from provider association LeadingAge shows that long-term care (LTC) operators must hire almost 70% more maintenance workers, nursing assistants and food preparation workers and bulk up total staff by 2.5 million people to meet overall demand by 2030.
Though the effects of ending DACA are hard to predict, many throughout the senior living, skilled nursing and home health care industries oppose any move that would further constrain the available workforce.
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“My first reaction is that anything that reduces the number of potential caregivers cannot be good for us,” Fred Benjamin, president of Lexington Health Network’s skilled nursing division, tells SHN.
Lombard, Illinois-based Lexington Health has 13 senior care communities and skilled nursing facilities and offers in-home care throughout the state of Illinois.
“The health care workforce in general is a very multinational kind of workforce,” Benjamin adds. “As a result of that, my expectation is that [ending DACA] would decrease the available number of people to work in our facilities and in health care employment in general.”
Ending DACA could also potentially weigh down the home health care industry, says Stephan Lowy, founder and CEO of ArloCare, an agency based in Union, New Jersey.
“Since there is already a serious shortage of health care workers in the U.S., deporting DREAMers would certainly weaken the system,” Lowy tells SHN.
To help solve the workforce shortage, Lowy suggests the federal government offer undocumented workers a reasonable, six-month path to citizenship. That way, people who might otherwise face deportation can stay in the workforce while they apply to stay permanently.
“Any illegal immigrant currently in the U.S. has two years to become a citizen,” he says, describing his suggested plan. “After two years, if you have not complied, you will be deported.”
Written by Tim Regan
Editor’s note: A previous version of this article stated that the Trump administration would deport DREAMers after a six-month grace period. This is incorrect. Instead, the administration has set DACA to officially expire on March 5, 2018. DREAMers still have a limited window to apply for renewal, meaning those who renew would likely have until 2020 before facing deportation.