Long term care advocates and their allies will push Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform, arguing that the nation’s elderly need more frontline workers for their care. 

The American Health Care Association is calling for Congress to waive caps on guest workers and, specifically, expand H-1B visas, a program designed to bring in skilled workers from overseas.

“There’s just no question that there is critical shortage of nurses and therapists now,” AHCA CEO and President Gov. Mark Parkinson said in a conference call with media on Wednesday. “And hopefully, part of immigration reform can help us.”

By 2020, America’s nursing shortage will be 36 percent, Parkinson said. 

Unlike most other issues in Washington, the nation’s two main parties apparently agree in principle on immigration reform, experts say. There remain deep divisions on whether the reforms, generally, should lead to “a path to citizenship” or merely “a path to residency,” but Parkinson said Wednesday that he was confident that overhauling immigration “is something the country can get behind and make some positive changes.” 

Long term care, as an industry, is America’s 10th largest employer, Parkinson said. “That makes it extremely important that we’re a part of the debate,” he said. 

Wednesday’s call comes a day before Medicalodges Chief Operating Officer Fred Benjamin will take point in the battle for immigration reform. He’s expected to testify Thursday before a subcommittee of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce. 

“We have critical staffing needs,” Benjamin is expected to say, according to his prepared testimony. “There are chronic shortages through the nursing home industry.”

For long term care administrators, “it is a daily struggle to find enough dedicated caregi vers,” Benjamin is expected to say, according to his testimony. 

Unlike other professions, nursing homes can’t simply scale back their services, Benjamin’s testimony says. And Medicare and Medicaid don’t reimburse at high enough rates to allow wages to be drastically expanded, he says. 

“Our labor shortage is our most pressing operating problem,” he says.

Joining Wednesday’s conference call, Benjamin said that the sector is being hit with a 2 percent cut under the so-called sequester and faces an even more uncertain regulatory future. “Who knows what Congress will do to us after that,” he said.

A Medicaid wage “pass-through” would be a big step in the right direction, Benjamin says in his testimony—but so would giving hard working immigrants a chance to enter the profession.

“We need to increase staff supply, and there are many talented immigrants who are anxious to enter the caregiving field, yet are faced with insurmountable roadblocks,” Benjamin’s testimony says. “These talented caregivers should be given the opportunity to make a living and make a difference in their own lives and the lives of others. To increase the supply of labor, please give special consideration to permitting new entry for immigrants with nursing skills as well as increasing the pool of unskilled labor. We need a new immigration system that serves the economic needs of the U.S. economy.”