Immigration Lawyer Orange County & Los Angeles, CA

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nurse immigrant visa

Registered Nurses – Immigrant Visa


Nurses seeking immigrant visas (“green cards”) operate under an easier system and get their green cards much faster than many of the other professions. Registered Nurses (RNs) are treated in very special ways by U.S. immigration laws. Some requirements highly favor foreign nurses; however, others impose additional documentation and examination requirements on RNs. This article pertains solely to Registered Nurses --- not Licensed Practical Nurses (LPN) and Certified Nursing Assistants (CNA).

Unlike many of the other employment based immigrant visa categories, the labor certification requirement does not apply to RNs. This is because the occupation is a “Schedule A” occupation, meaning it has already been certified by the Department of Labor. This makes the process much shorter than for categories that do require a labor certification.

Is there a cap or numerical limitation?

Nurses fit into a green card category with a limited quota. During early 2005, the category for nationals of the Philippines, India and China was backlogged by several years and many nurses were affected. As a result, Congress signed a bill in May 2005 that created 50,000 additional visas for RNs, physical therapists, and their spouses and children. The additional 50,000 visas were only expected last to the end of 2006, and unless more visas are made available, the backlogs are expected to return. Accordingly, employers are urged to act quickly.

“Schedule A” Occupations

“Schedule A” is a list of occupations, set forth at 20 CFR 656.15, for which the Department of Labor has determined there are not sufficient U.S. workers who are able, willing, qualified and available. In addition, “Schedule A” establishes that the employment of foreign workers in such occupations will not adversely affect the wages and working conditions of U.S. workers similarly employed. On the “Schedule A” list RNs are defined as follows:

Professional Nurses - the alien (i) has a Commission on Graduates in Foreign Nursing Schools (CGFNS) Certificate, (ii) the alien has passed the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX—RN) exam, or (iii) the alien holds a full and unrestricted (permanent) license to practice nursing in the state of intended employment.

Note that this pre-certification is limited in scope. It only applies to “Professional Nurses”. “Schedule A” is not available to Licensed Practical Nurses, Nurse Assistants, or other nursing aides. Professional Nursing is defined as a course of study in professional nursing resulting in a diploma, certificate, baccalaureate degree, or associate degree. More specifically, an acceptable course of study for professional nurses generally includes theory and practice in clinical areas such as obstetrics, surgery, pediatrics, psychiatry, and medicine. Whatever training the nurse has received should result in licensure in the country in which the training occurred. This coursework may have been completed at a U.S. nursing school or an approved foreign nursing program. For an immigrant visa, it is not required that a nurse have a bachelor’s degree in nursing, only that he or she completed a professional program in nursing and have subsequently been licensed.

I. What are the requirements that the foreign nurses must meet?

For a foreign nurse to obtain permanent residency through the “Schedule A” category, the applicant must meet the following requirements:

  • He or she must have a diploma from a nursing school in his or her country;
  • Have a RN license in his or her country; and
  • Have a full and unrestricted license to practice professional nursing in the state of intended employment, or a certification that she has passed the examination given by the Commission on Graduates of Foreign Nursing Schools (CGFNS), or evidence that she has passed the NCLEX-RN licensing examination but cannot obtain a license because she lacks a social security number.

A. NCLEX Examination

Although some states require that foreign nurses pass the CGFNS examination before taking the state RN licensing (NCLEX) examination, the number of such states is on the decline. This is because, it now possible to take the NCLEX abroad. The examination is offered in Australia (Sydney), Canada (Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver), Great Britain (London), Hong Kong, India (Bangalore, Chennai, Hyderabad, Mumbai and New Delhi), Japan (Chiyoda-ku and Yokohama), Korea (Seoul), Germany (Frankfurt), Mexico (Mexico City) and Taiwan (Taipei). In addition, RNs may take the NCLEX in Guam, Puerto Rico and Saipan. As of February 9, 2007, RNs may take the NCLEX in Manila, Philippines.  (More information about NCLEX-RN can be found at the NCSBN Web site: )

B. Licensure Requirements

Nurses are also required to adhere to licensing requirements of the state in which they intend to work. Licensing requirements for registered nurses are maintained on a state-by-state basis, and each state has slightly different requirements for licensing. To demonstrate eligibility and preparedness for the NCLEX exam, most states require a combination of materials be submitted with the license application. The documents may include CGFNS certification, copies of foreign academic credentials with certified translations, an education/credentials evaluation and a demonstration of proficiency in English (e.g. TOEFL exam results).

All states permit an individual to obtain a license through examination, and some state permit licensing by endorsement, or acceptance of a registered nurse license from another state or country as evidence of the person's credentials. For more information on requirements in each of the states visit the National Counsel of State Boards of Nursing website.

In addition, unless the nurse was educated in an English-speaking country (U.S., Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, United Kingdom or Canada — except Quebec), the nurse must achieve a certain score on tests in written and spoken English administered by TOEFL (Test Of English As A Foreign Language), IELTS (International English Language Testing Service) or TOEIC (Test of English in International Communications.)

C. VisaScreen

U.S. immigration law now requires that healthcare professionals, other than physicians, complete a screening program in order to qualify for certain occupational visas. VisaScreen, a program offered by the International Commission On Healthcare Professions (ICHP), enables healthcare professionals to meet this requirement by verifying and evaluating their credentials to ensure compliance with the government's minimum eligibility standards.

A VisaScreen certificate is issued only after the RN has demonstrated that:

 (1) His/her education, license and training are equivalent to education, licensure and training in the U.S., that all professional licenses are valid and unencumbered; and

 (2) His/her level of competence in oral and written English are appropriate to practice professional nursing in the U.S.

USCIS regulations provide that the only organization currently authorized to issue VisaScreen certificates to RNs is the Commission on Graduates of Foreign Nursing Schools (CGFNS). Additionally, the regulations also require foreign-born RNs who are educated, licensed and trained in the U.S. to obtain a VisaScreen certificate. However, such RNs may be able to obtain a VisaScreen certificate on a streamlined basis.

For RNs outside the U.S. who will be applying for their visas at the U.S. Consulate, the VisaScreen certificate will be submitted at the consular interview. If the RN already has a VisaScreen certificate when the I-140 immigrant petition is filed, include it as an attachment to the Form I-485 (adjustment of status). Note: The CIS will send an RFE requesting the VisaScreen before approving the I-485 application for adjustment of status.

II. Filing the I-140 Immigrant Visa Petition on Behalf of a foreign RN

The initial step in a “Schedule A” case is to file an I-140 Immigrant Visa Petition package with the appropriate USCIS Regional Service Center. The petition is filed by a U.S. Employer (Petitioner) on behalf of the foreign nurse (Beneficiary). NOTE: If the Beneficiary is already in the U.S., he/she and her accompanying family members may apply for adjustment of status at the same time as filing the Immigrant Visa petition.

A. The I-140 Immigrant Visa Petition package must include the following:

  • Form I-140, Petition for Alien Worker, with appropriate filing fee
  • An uncertified Form ETA-9089, Application for Permanent Employment Certification
  • A Wage Determination issued by the State Workforce Agency (SWA) having jurisdiction over the proposed area where the job opportunity exists. Employers are required to pay 100 percent of the prevailing wage determination.
  • Copy of the posted Notice and Attestation
    • This Notice must include a job description, work hours, and rate of pay and must be posted in the worksite for a minimum of ten consecutive business days.
    • In addition, the employer must publish the Notice in any and all in-house media, whether electronic or printed, in accordance with the normal procedures used for the recruitment of similar position in the employer’s organization.
    • The Attestation must identify the physical location/s where the Notice was posted and the date of publishing all in-house media
  • Evidence of the employer's ability to pay the nurse.
    • Copies of annual reports, federal tax returns or audited financial statements
    • If the employer has at least 100 employees, a detailed letter from the CFO will usually suffice.

  • Copy of the foreign nurse’s full unrestricted permanent license to practice nursing in the state of intended employment or CGFNS certificate issued by the Commission on Graduates of Foreign Nursing Schools; or,
    • Evidence that the foreign nurse has passed the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN), administered by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing and evidence that the nurse cannot obtain a license because he or she cannot obtain a social security number
  • Nursing diploma/degree
  • Nursing registration/licensure form the country where the degree was obtained

For RNs already in the U.S. who are filing for adjustment of status concurrently with the immigrant visa petition, be sure to review the article entitled Adjustment of Status for detailed information on the forms and documents to be submitted. Additionally, see section above on “VisaScreen”.

B. Visa Issuance

As aforementioned, RNs already in the U.S. may file for adjustment of status at the time of filing the I-140 Immigrant Visa Petition. If for some reason, he/she does not file for adjustment of status at that time, he/she may apply any time after the I-140 package is submitted or approved.

If the RN is outside the U.S., once the USCIS approves the I-140 Immigrant Visa Petition they will forward the approved visa petition to the National Visa Center (NVC) in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. The nurse (or the attorney) receives a "fee bill" asking for all government processing fees to be paid in advance of processing the application and those of his/her immediate family members. After the fees are paid, the NVC forwards a packet to the RN (or the attorney) containing biographical information forms to be completed by the RN and his/her family members, and a list of documents which must be submitted.

 The RN, or the attorney, then sends the signed and completed forms and documents to the NVC which then schedules an appointment for an Immigrant Visa Interview for the RN and his/her family at the U.S. Consulate or Embassy where he/she resides. At this interview, the Consular Officer will examine various documents including:

  • Applications for Immigrant Visas
  • (Available at the Department of State’s website. In addition, these forms may now be e-filed at many consulates.)

  • Police Clearances
  • (Information on obtaining these can be found at the Department of State’s website’s section on Reciprocity Schedules)

  • Birth Certificates
  • Marriage Certificate, if any
  • Divorce or Death Certificate of Spouse, if any
  • Valid Passports
  • Medical Examinations
  • Photographs
  • Recent job offer letter (or employment contract)
  • Financial information regarding employer
  • Government filing fees
  • VisaScreen Certificate (see section above entitled “VisaScreen”)

Consulates set their own interview policies and procedures regarding immigrant visa interviews. Be sure to check the consulate’s website for their specific instructions.

The information contained in this web page is intended strictly to be used for information purposes and to educate the public in a general manner. The information contained in this page should not be considered legal advice, legal consultation, expressed or implied representation or a formal or an informal retention of this office. To create a formal attorney-client relationship a retainer must be signed and a fee must be paid to this office. Our response to any of your questions, comments, concerns etc. does not establish an attorney-client relationship. By responding to your questions we do not consider ourselves your attorneys. The response to your questions is strictly informational in nature and should not be considered or used as legal advice in any manner. The information contained on this site is general information on immigration laws and issues. The general information that is included in this web page will not cover the various exceptions and loopholes that are prevalent in the Immigration laws. We hope that our web page will educate you and hopefully enhance your understanding of Immigration laws.

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