California Service Center on Nurse and Physical Therapist Visa Screens

In one of my previous articles, I wrote about a USCIS policy change in regards to Nurses (RNs) and Physical Therapists (PTs) immigrating to the United States. Before the policy change, RNs and PTs in the U.S. could apply for their green cards based on being sponsored to work in their fields. The green card application could be submitted without a finalized Visa Screen (basically an independent certification that the RN/PT has the proper medical knowledge and English skills to perform in the U.S.). The policy change stated that green card applications would now require a finalized Visa Screen to be submitted with the application.

The impact of this policy change is dramatic. The USCIS can now reject green card applications as improperly filed if a finalized Visa Screen is not included. This translates into a nightmare for most RNs and PTs. It now takes from six months to one year before a completed Visa Screen certificate is issued. Most RN’s and PT’s who are in the U.S. when applying for their green cards are on a tourist visa limited to only six months. So, there is no way for them to obtain a Visa Screen in time to submit it with their green card application.

Green card processing takes approximately two years at the USCIS. During the two years, RN and PTs are considered to be in, “a period of stay authorized by the attorney general.” This means they are not accruing unlawful presence. If one has over 180 days of unlawful presence, one cannot file for a green card. However, if a green card application is rejected, the entire time it was pending before rejected may count as unlawful presence. What this means is if an RN/PT filed for a green card without having a visa screen approved, and the green card application was rejected over 180 days later, the RN/PT could not obtain a green card in the U.S. Worse off, if the RN/PT left the U.S., the 180 days of unlawful presence would bar the RN/PT from returning for three years! If the unlawful presence reached one year or more, the RN/PT would face a 10-year bar from returning to the U.S. This leaves the RN/PT in an extremely difficult position.

The USCIS’s California Service Center (CSC) recently addressed this issue raised by an Immigration liaison committee. The CSC has stated that when it adjudicates the RN and PT green card applications, and finds a complete visa screen has not been submitted, it will give the RN or PT a chance to provide it. Nurses and physical therapist green card applications typically wait in line for one year before the CSC begins to adjudicate it. This one year can be used to complete the visa screen and have it ready to submit when asked for by the CSC. For cases falling under the jurisdiction of the CSC, the RN and PT applications will not be rejected. Other jurisdictions have yet to indicate how they will tackle this issue that has very serious consequences on people who will be providing a public health service.