Green Cards for Nurses

The United States has an acute shortage of nurses that is so severe that the U.S. Department of Labor pre-certified the registered nursing occupation as a shortage occupation several years ago. This pre-certification allows foreign nurses to quickly immigrate to the United States.

Because of pre-certification, Employers may petition the Bureau for Citizenship and Immigration Services (“BCIS”, formerly known as the INS) directly for an immigrant visa and bypass the laborious Labor Certification process. This shaves of years of processing for permanent residency status also known as the green card. Essentially, Registered Nurses are only required to show that they are qualified for the nursing position.

This qualification is demonstrated through a process called the Visa Screen. The Untied States requires that immigrating Registered Nurses obtain a certificate know as the Visa Screen issued by the Commission on Graduates of Foreign Nursing Schools (“CGFNS”). The CGFNS conducts an assessment of an applicant’s foreign education to ensure that it is comparable to that of a U.S. graduate in the same profession. It also verifies that the applicant’s licenses are valid and unencumbered, and determines the applicant’s English language proficiency. Finally it verifies that the nurse has either earned a CGFNS Certificate or passed the National Counsel Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (“NCLEX-RN”). Applicants must successfully complete all three parts of the Certification Program in order to earn the CGFNS Visa Screen.

Nurses who successfully pass the CGFNS’s nursing knowledge exam are awarded the CGFNS Certificate. This exam is administered at select locations worldwide and is a prerequisite for sitting for some state licensing exams. The NCLEX-RN exam is given only in the U.S. and its territories which include Guam and American Samoa. Since all states require passing the NCLEX exam, it is the preferred exam to take. Nurses who pass the CGFNS exam will still have to take the NCLEX at some point in order to obtain state licensing. So, nurses who have a choice should take the NCLEX exam. The NCLEX Board is currently considering offering the exam overseas. But, this will probably not occur for at least a few years. Until then, if a nurse has the option of traveling to the U.S or its territories to take the NCLEX exam, the nurse should take this option over sitting for the CGFNS exam.

The CGFNS Visa Screen also requires an assessment of the candidate’s spoken and written English knowledge. The three English tests currently accepted are the TOEFL, the Test for English in International Communication, and the International English Language Testing System. Nurses who have obtained their nursing degrees in the United States, Australia, New Zealand, United Kingdom, and Canada (except for Quebec) are exempted from the English language requirement.

The CGFNS takes several months to issue a Visa Screen once all the exam results are submitted to it. Therefore, it is important for registered nurses to begin this process as soon as possible. Once a Visa Screen is issued by the CGFNS, it may then be submitted to the U.S. Consulate along with a BCIS immigrant visa petition approval to obtain an immigrant visa. Registered nurses already in the U.S. may use the Visa Screen to adjust their status to that of legal permanent resident with the BCIS.

Armed with a Visa Screen, foreign nurses are able to immigrate to the U.S. much faster than most other occupations being sponsored for legal permanent residency. The BCIS approval for obtaining an immigrant visa and legal permanent residency is sufficiently complex that it is best for the layperson to obtain professional representation in the matter. For more information on Registered Nurses please see