H-1B for Nurses

Overview

Contrary to what one may believe, most Registered Nurses (RN) or Licensed Practical Nurses (LPN) are not regarded by the government as a profession that is qualified for an H-1B visa. The primary reason lies in the educational requirement for a normal RN or LPN position – typically only two years, which fall short of the four-year college degree requirement for H-1B purposes. To be considered for an H-1B visa, one requirement is that the petitioner, or the employer, must demonstrate that the position is a “specialty occupation.” (see “Basic Overview of the H-1B Visa Qualifications and Procedures”). Generally, a “specialty occupation” can be proved by requiring at least a bachelor degree in a specific field or that the industry standard requires a specific bachelor degree. Usually, nurse manager or an advanced practice positions may qualify for H-1B visas since most of these positions require a Bachelor of Sciences (B.S.) in nursing or a Master of Science (M.S.) degree. However, it may be difficult for RNs or LPNs to be considered for H-1B visas since these positions generally do not require a bachelor’s or higher degree.

Recent Developments at USCIS

In 2002, legacy Immigration Naturalization Service (INS) issued a memorandum providing guidance on this issue and essentially stated that most RN positions would not qualify for an H-1B visa unless the petitioner can establish that the job offered requires at a minimum a college degree. Then, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) issued an interim policy memorandum on July 11, 2014 that superseded the former 2002 INS memorandum. The 2014 memo that was later finalized in yet another memo in 2015 discusses the changing industry for nurses and that employers now increasingly expect nurses to have a college degree; however, the adjudicatory standard that USCIS uses to review H-1B applications for nurses has remained essentially unchanged. Currently, the requirements of H-1B for nursing are as below: 

  • The position is a specialty occupation;
  • The nurse has a degree or equivalent pursuant to H-1B regulations;
  • The nurse has passed the foreign nurses exam (NCLEX-RN); and
  • The nurse has passed the state licensure.When an applicant is required to prove a lawful employment before obtaining the license from the state or local authority, and the license is required to practice the profession, USCIS will approve a one-year H-1B petition for the applicant to work on obtaining the license. However, the request to extend the H-1B visa will be denied if the applicant is ultimately unable to obtain the license. 

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Basic Overview of the H-1B Visa Qualifications and Procedures

Background and Basics

The H-1B is a non-immigrant visa that allows United States employers to petition on behalf of a foreign national employee to work in a “specialty occupation” on a temporary basis. While the configuration of the visa program has changed over the years, the current H-1B program has been in effect since the Immigration Act of 1990. Qualifications for specialty occupations will be discussed in more detail, but are generally comprised of highly educated workers like scientists, economists, engineers, and doctors. In fact, almost two-thirds of H-1B visa applicants work in the STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, mathematics). These visas do not include workers who may qualify for an O visa (those with extraordinary ability) or P visa (entertainers and athletes). However, fashion models with “distinguished merit and ability,” as measured by prominence in the field, may qualify for H-1B visas.

The goal of the H-1B visa program is to enhance the U.S. economy by bringing skilled foreign workers to fill employments gaps in fields or geographical areas where American workers are lacking. Program guidelines stipulate that hiring the foreign worker must “not adversely affect the wages and working conditions of similarly employed U.S. workers” This is one of several provisions of the program designed to protect American workers.

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