Work Visas and U.S. Green Card Options for Nurses

The United States government offers foreign nurses a few special procedures for obtaining a visa to work in the U.S. as well as becoming the beneficiary of a U.S. green card. U.S. immigration gives preference to particular types of immigrants by offering multiple (and sometimes quicker) options for them to get temporary work visas as well as lawful permanent residence in the U.S. Since the U.S. is consistently short on medical workers, one of the classes of immigrants who get focused attention is foreign nurses.

In order to persuade more foreign nurses to travel to work in the country, the U.S. government has, over time, instituted several procedures to encourage their ability to work and live in the country.

Can a Foreign Nurse Temporarily Work in the U.S?

A foreign nurse who wants to work in the U.S. on a short-term basis (without getting a U.S. green card), might be able to receive an H-1B visa. An H-1B visa is a temporary work visa for foreign nationals who have a job offer from a U.S. employer to work in a specialty occupation.

When starting the process for an H-1B visa the U.S. employer such as a medical hospital or medical clinic, would file an I-129 petition with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). This immigration department has full authority on deciding whether or not to approve the employer’s request for H-1B status for the foreign worker.

The potential employer must prove that the nursing position is in a specialty occupation. USCIS employs a four-pronged test for the specialty occupation. The position must meet one of the four prong criteria:

  • A Bachelor’s or higher degree or its equivalent is generally the minimum requirement for the position
  • The degree requirement for the job is common to the industry or the job is so complex or unique that it can be performed only by a person with a degree
  • An employer normally demands a degree or its equivalent for the position
  • The nature of the specific duties is so specialized and complicated that the knowledge required to perform the responsibilities and duties is normally associated with the achievement of a bachelor’s or higher degree

In most instances, USCIS focuses on the first prong and looks at whether a bachelor’s degree is required for the nursing job. This can make obtaining an H-1B visa hard to get because several states do NOT require a bachelor’s degree for a typical registered nurse position. As an alternative most states require a shorter certification process for this position.

Although it could be difficult to obtain an H-1B visa as a registered nurse, if the position is for a nurse practitioner or clinical nurse, almost every state requires at least a bachelor’s degree for such positions. Therefore you would have a better opportunity at acquiring an H-1B visa. It is always good to find out the state’s requirements for the nursing position that is being offered by the U.S. employer. The qualifications possessed by the applicant may not matter as much as the qualifications necessary for the job, in the context of whether the job is a specialty occupation. For example, an applicant has a master’s degree in nursing and a U.S. employer offers a registered nurse position in California. California does not require a bachelor’s degree in order to work as a registered nurse. USCIS will deem the position for a registered nurse ineligible as a specialty occupation even with a master’s degree.

What Type of Nursing Certification Is Needed to Apply for a U.S. Visa or Green Card?

Every foreign nurse, regardless of which country they are coming from with an H-1B visa or with a U.S. green card, must show evidence to USCIS that they are certified to work in the medical field in the U.S. Such information is very specific to physicians, nurses and other medical personnel who must meet different requirements.

A foreign nurse must be certified by the Commission on Graduates of Foreign Nursing Schools (CGFNS). The nurse must provide all their qualifications and educational credentials to CGFNS. After reviewing the evidence, the CGFNS will issue a certified statement verifying:

  • The nurse has a valid and unrestricted license to practice in the U.S. in which that person will work and the state that has certified the nurse’s foreign license is legitimate
  • The nurse has passed the NCLEX, which is the U.S. licensing examination for nurses
  • The nurse graduated from an accredited English-language nursing program
  • The nurse’s program was located in a country designated by the U.S. as acceptable for medical training and
  • The nursing program was in operation on or before November 12, 1999

Time to Hire an Immigration Attorney

As can be seen, there are many varying issues that must be piloted throughout the H-1B visa process. It is encouraged to retain an immigration lawyer. Gambacorta Law Office is ready to assist applicants with their H-1B visa applications. Call us at 847 443 9303.