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Nurse Visas: Options for RNs Looking to Work in the U.S.

by Ally Bolour | Mar 10, 2021

nurse visa lawyer

If you are a registered nurse and you would like to live and work in the United States, you will have an easier, faster path than most. Since there is a nursing shortage, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) makes it easier for hospitals and other health care employers to sponsor foreign national nurses for employment. A nurse visa lawyer can help you understand your options and guide you through the application process.

Employment-based green cards

Because registered nurses are classified as a Shortage A occupation by the Department of Labor (DOL), employers who wish to sponsor foreign national RNs for full-time employment will have a streamlined process to do so. To sponsor individuals in most other occupations, the employer would have to obtain a labor certification from the DOL that verifies there are no qualified U.S. workers available for the petition. But for RNs, DOL has pre-certified this, so the petitioner can skip this lengthy step and simply file an uncertified application for permanent labor certification along with Form I-140, a petition for immigrant workers, directly to USCIS.

The application must include extensive supporting documentation, including proof of the nurse’s qualifications. As a nurse, you can request a review from the Commission on Graduates of Foreign Nursing Schools (CGFNS), which will issue you a certificate after verifying your education and licenses, English proficiency, whether you meet the minimum educational requirements for licensure in the state of intended employment, and whether you meet the minimum educational requirements for the requested classification. Also, you will need to take and pass either the CGFNS exam or the National Council Licensure Exam for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN). Alternately, if you already have an unrestricted permanent license to practice nursing in the state of intended employment, you do not need to present a CGFNS certificate.  

Your prospective employer must obtain a valid prevailing wage determination from the DOL’s National Prevailing Wage Center and must show that it intends to pay you at least the prevailing wage. Further, the employer must show that it has posted a notice of the available position to its employees and its bargaining representative if applicable. 

If you are already legally in the U.S. and a visa is immediately available, you can file Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status, before your employer’s Form I-140 is approved. Your application will not be adjudicated, though, until the Form I-140 petition is approved. 

If you are outside the U.S., you must wait until Form I-140 is approved before beginning a consular process to enter the country. The USCIS will send the approved petition to the Department of State’s National Visa Center (NVC), which will notify you of the fees and documents to submit, and you will be scheduled for an interview at the consular office in your country. 

Temporary work visas

Another option is the H-1B program, which allows U.S. employers to hire foreign national workers with highly specialized skills to temporarily fill positions that they struggle to fill domestically. To be considered for this type of visa, which would allow you to live and work in the U.S. for up to three years and could be extended for another three years, you must have a bachelor’s degree or higher, and the position must require the services of an employee who has a bachelor’s degree or higher in the field related to the position. In some states, bachelor’s degrees are not required to become a registered nurse. So even though you have a bachelor’s degree or higher, you would not be eligible for an H-1B visa in those states, because the position does not strictly require that education level. H-1B visas are especially applicable to advanced practice nurses, such as certified nurse practitioners or registered nurse anesthetists, and registered nurses with specialized skills, such as critical care or cardiac nurses. 

However, it’s important to note that even if you and the position qualify for an H-1B visa and a U.S. hospital or other employer is willing to sponsor you, you might not be selected. Because demand for H-1B visas is higher than the supply, H-1B visa applications are selected for approval by lottery. Each year, there are 85,000 H-1B visas available, with 20,000 of those spots reserved for foreign graduates of U.S. advanced degree programs (master’s and higher). In a typical year, more than 200,000 applications are received for the H-1B visa program, registration for which takes place in March. 

TN visas for Canadian, Mexican RNs

Canadian and Mexican RNs who wish to work in the United States have another option due to the special economic relationships created by the North American Free Trade Agreement. Canadian and Mexican citizens in certain professions, including RNs, who have a prearranged full-time or part-time job with a U.S. employer may be eligible for a TN nonimmigrant visa, which is good for up to three years and can be extended in yearly increments. 

Canadians can simply apply for TN nonimmigrant status at certain ports of entry or at a designated pre-clearance/pre-flight inspection station. They must show proof of Canadian citizenship, their credentials and a letter from the employer. If you are coming from Mexico, however, you are required to obtain a visa before entering the United States as a TN nonimmigrant. You can apply for a TN visa directly at a U.S. embassy or consulate in Mexico. The process will include filing Form DS-160, Online Nonimmigrant Visa Application, and an interview at the consular office. 

If you would like to speak to a nurse visa lawyer, contact Bolour/Carl Immigration Group at 323-857-0034 or [email protected].  

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