Jennifer Larson, NurseZone feature writer
There may be an
increase in applications by nurses for temporary work visas, thanks to guidance recently
issued by the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service. The INS issued a guidance memo
to its field offices Nov. 27 to clarify information on H-1B classification, which allows
workers to obtain temporary work visas.
At the least, the memo may clear up some confusion. The added attention
may also spark an increase in applications for these visas among qualified applicants, said
Greg Siskind, an attorney with Siskind Susser Haas & Devine, an immigration law firm
headquartered in Memphis, Tennessee.
However, while the
memo did clarify for the first time when a nurse is eligible for an H-1B visa, the INS did
not make more people eligible for this type of nonimmigrant work visa.
It can take as long
as 18 months or more for foreign nurses to complete the traditional immigrant visa process
so that they can work in the United States.
Only people who are
classified as having a “specialty occupation” can obtain the H-1B visa. Specialty
occupations are usually occupations that require at least a bachelor’s degree for
practice. Advanced practice nurses usually qualify for an H-1B visa due to their
additional training and education, and some upper-level nurse administrators also qualify.
According to Siskind,
most registered nurses have not been eligible for the specialty occupation classification
because almost every state only requires an associate’s degree in nursing for licensure.
Only North Dakota requires its registered nurses to have completed a bachelor’s degree.
There has been no
special immigration provision for nurses without bachelor’s degrees, so most have had no
other recourse than to apply for a green card, which is a lengthy process.
A few nurses may
apply for and receive a TN visa (available only to citizens of Mexico or Canada) or an
Only 500 H-1C visas
are approved each year, according to attorney George M. Sabga Jr., of San Marcos,
California. Also, this type of visa cannot be extended after it expires, and it applies
only to underserved areas.
from other countries used to be able to apply for a H-1A classification; according to a
New York Law Journal article by Stanley Mailman and Stephen Yale-Loehr that was published
in February 2000, this classification was created for RNs and required employers to detail
the steps they were taking to “wean themselves from reliance on foreign nurses.”
The H-1A program was
created in 1989, and during that time, nurses could not receive H-1B classification.
However, when the H-1A program ended in 1995, it became unclear whether registered nurses
would be eligible for the H-1B category.
The process and
requirements haven’t really changed, but some nurses may find it a little easier to get
clearance to work in the United States, now that the process has been clarified by the INS
memo. Nurses with certain specializations may qualify for H-1B visas. The INS has
clarified critical care and peri-operative nurses as specific examples of nurses who may
qualify for H-1B visas.
Siskind said he
doubted there would be a dramatic increase in the number of foreign nurses arriving in the
United States in the short term, but he noted there may be a long-term increase. He said
he does expect an increase in applications for H-1B visas, due to the recent attention
garnered by the INS memo.
North Dakota may see
an uptick in the numbers of foreign nurses working there in the coming months, Siskind
added, since the state’s requirement of a bachelor’s degree makes nursing a specialty
That could be a gold
rush for North Dakota, in terms of being able to procure enough nurses to fill vacancies.
“North Dakota is
really going to benefit from this, and it may even become a gateway state,” Siskind
In fact, he is aware
of some nurse recruiters already considering ways to import foreign nurses to North Dakota
with a temporary work visa and then find a way to shift those nurses to other states in
need of more nurses.
Nurses can apply for
a permanent visa and wait for approval while working on a temporary visa, so that could be
one way to spread the wealth to other states. The maximum stay allowed under the H-1B
policy is six years, according to the INS.
North Dakota might
even be able to market this strategy and benefit financially from it, Siskind added.
It is unclear how
many additional foreign nurses will apply for or receive temporary nonimmigrant status
under the H-1B program.
The INS does enforce
legal limits on the number of H-1B visas issued.
Competitiveness and Workforce Improvement Act of 1998 regulates H-1B policy.
The act initially
set a ceiling of 107,500 petitions initially valid for the fiscal year 2001, a decrease
from 115,000 in 2000. However, the ceiling was eventually raised to 195,000 for fiscal
year 2001 after the American Competitiveness in the Twenty-First Century Act was passed in
The cap for fiscal
years 2002 and 2003 was set at 195,000.
In fiscal year 2000,
299,000 petitions for H-1B status were filed, and 165,000 of those were for initial
employment. About 137,00 of those initial employment filings were approved.
The majority of H-1B
visas are issued to people working in a computer-related field.
For more information
on visa applications and regulations, visit the INS’
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Healthcare, Inc. All Rights Reserved.