The Truth about Nurses and U.S. Immigration Law
December 6, 2001

It is no wonder everyone and his brother wants to become a nurse recruiter. The demand for registered nurses in the U.S. is sky high and the supply is scarce, especially in the case of nursing homes seeking to fill positions. And as our population grows older, the demand in such settings for registered nurses and related health care professionals, such as physical therapists and certified nursing assistants, will only continue to increase.

As far as registered nurses and U.S. immigration law is concerned, it appears that confusion continues to run rampant in communities across the U.S., the Philippines, India and elsewhere regarding exactly what options exist for nurses to travel to the U.S. and work. And the confusion is particularly acute for those families being forced to cough up huge amounts of money in order to facilitate the deal they believe will allow their R.N. family member to travel to the U.S.

So what are the options?

Immigrant visa: In general, for R.N.’s residing abroad and seeking to enter the U.S. to work at a health care facility, the only option is an immigrant work visa. To facilitate issuance of an immigrant visa, a “sponsoring” healthcare facility in the U.S. must first file paperwork (I-140 immigrant worker petition and supporting documents) on behalf of the R.N. with the U.S. Immigration & Naturalization Service. To start the process and obtain INS’ approval (which can be obtained in as little as 1 to 3 months), the R.N. only need be in possession of evidence of passage of CGFNS and diploma. However, before the U.S. Embassy abroad will release the immigrant visa, the R.N. must be prepared to present his/her ICHP, Visa Screen Certificate (after achieving minimum scores on their TOEFL, Test of Spoken English, and Test of Written English). Usually, an immigrant visa interview at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate abroad can be facilitated within 3 to 8 months following INS’ approval of the I-140 immigrant worker petition, depending on scheduling demands on the consular post in question.

The immigrant visa processing option is also available for R.N.’s currently in the U.S. In most cases, however, the R.N. had to have maintained their status throughout their stay here in order to have their entire case processed in the U.S. and without being forced to return home. However, those who are “grandfathered” under “Section 245(i)” may be able to complete their permanent residence processing in the U.S., WHETHER OR NOT THEY ARE IN LAWFUL INS STATUS. Again, for those in the U.S., the CGFNS is required to start the process, and the ICHP Visa Screen certificate will be needed to finish. And, interestingly, qualifying R.N.’s in the U.S. with CGFNS will be able to obtain employment authorization while their cases are pending and their efforts toward state licensure and their ICHP Visa Screen certification is ongoing.

What about the H-1B temporary nonimmigrant work visa option? I bring up this question since I have heard much talk lately about this being a viable avenue toward working as an R.N. in the U.S. For the most part, claims that such a visa can be issued for R.N.’s, whether in the U.S. or abroad, are untrue. If and when the U.S. Congress reenacts legislation once again making available the H-1A work visa (a visa especially for registered nurses), there is no temporary non-immigrant visa option for R.N.’s to travel in the U.S. (There is, however, an H-1C visa for nurses, but since only 500 visas are issued per year, and the governing regulations are prohibitively restrictive, this option is of very limited practical use).

So, what is the message? Before you or anyone you know is asked to hand over a large lump sum payment (and/or assign 10 years of future wages) to any recruiter or agency, make sure you do your homework and become fully informed so as to insure that all of the information being provided is true and rests on a solid legal foundation.

REVISED April 01, 2004
Copyright © 2001-2008, By Law Offices of Richard Hanus, Chicago, Illinois