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An Overview of US Immigration for Foreign Educated Nurses

If you'd rather not take a chance on taking part in the H-1B work visa lottery to practice in the United States as a Registered Nurse, consider applying for permanent residency instead.


United States of AmericaMigration ResourceSkilled Immigration
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An Overview of US Immigration for Foreign Educated Nurses
Written by Jennifer Aranda.
Updated December 17, 2017 | United States of America

If you are a Registered Nurse in your country, you will be glad to note that your profession is still classified by the US Department of Labor as a Schedule A shortage occupation.  This certainly makes it easier for you to immigrate to the United States under the third preference employment-based category (EB-3) as compared to individuals in other occupations.

For you to have a successful immigrant visa petition and visa application at the consular post, you must meet certain requirements such as:

  • Health Care Worker Certification and
  • Be sponsored by a qualified US employer.

You need Health Care Worker Certification to work in the US.

The golden rule for ALL visa applications is this: you must be able to demonstrate your admissibility for the visa category you are applying to.

And the same extends to everyone, most especially Registered Nurses immigrating to the United States.

Section 343 of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 or IIRIRA unequivocally states that foreign educated health care workers (except physicians) must present certification verifying that you are eligible and have met the minimum requirements to practice in the United States.

As a foreign or internationally educated nurse, the Commission on Graduates of Foreign Nursing Schools or CGFNS will screen your credentials to include:

  • An assessment of your education to ensure that it is comparable to that of a U.S. nursing graduate;
  • Verification that all professional health care licenses that you ever held in all countries you worked in are valid and without restrictions;
  • Passing scores in an English language proficiency examination;
  • Verification that you passed either the CGFNS Qualifying Exam® or the NCLEX-RN®.

CGFNS Certification Program or NCLEX-RN licensure?

A strict requirement that all foreign-educated nurses must comply with is the VisaScreen® Certificate issued by the International Commission for Health Care Professionals (ICHP) of CGFNS.

How do you get the VisaScreen® Certificate?  You have two options:

  • Take the CGFNS Certification Program which consists of:
    • Passing scores in the CGFNS Qualifying Exam®
    • A credentials evaluation of secondary and nursing education
    • You have a foreign license that is authentic and unrestricted
    • Passing one of the accepted English language proficiency exams
  •  Take the NCLEX-RN Exam which involves:
    • Applying to a State Board of Nursing and meeting the requirements of that particular state board
    • Passing the NCLEX-RN
    • Getting the Credentials Evaluation Service Professional Report of the CGFNS or the CGFNS Certification Program, depending on the requirement of the State Board of Nursing you have applied to
    • Passing one of the accepted English language proficiency exams.

The fee of the CGFNS Certification Program or CP is slightly higher than the CGFNS Credentials Evaluation Service or CES but there are distinct benefits to taking the certification program:

  • Some State Boards of Nursing require the CGFNS CP rather the CGFNS CES as a requirement for licensure;
  • The CGFNS Qualifying Exam® component of the CGFNS CP component satisfies the examination requirement of the VisaScreen®: Visa Credentials Assessment for immigration.

If you have chosen the EB-3 pathway, you will be submitting your VisaScreen® Certificate during your consular interview if you are living outside the United States at the time of visa issuance. 

Concerns of Foreign Educated Nurses Applying for Immigration

Foreign educated nurses face several major concerns when they apply for immigration:

  • As is true for many states, a Registered Nurse cannot get their license without a Social Security Number or Individual Taxpayer Identification Number or ITIN, some of the hallmarks of immigration status.
  • Who can forget the retrogression of cut-off dates in the mid-naught decade? This lag was due to insufficient visa numbers and forced Registered Nurses to seek other residency options.  It was worse for employers who either had to sell their companies or go into bankruptcy, thereby abandoning the immigrant visa petitions.
  • Nurses themselves also run into legal issues such as trying to get out of their contracts either by buying their contracts or just leaving.  If you encounter recruiters or even family members who try to influence you to breach your contract, think of the legal repercussions and just turn away from these individuals.

There are workarounds of course for the first two problems but these mean additional expenses for your employer.  And if you feel that you cannot wait out your immigrant visa petition, then you may want to consider going the US work visa route instead.

About the Author

Jennifer Aranda

Jennifer Aranda

Jennifer S. Aranda is the COO of IVC Immigrant Visa Center, Inc.

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