Certifications Now Needed For Healthcare Workers

On July 25, 2004 certain healthcare workers who wish to work in their field in the U.S. will be required to produce health care worker certifications. This certification is commonly known as the Visa Screen and is required for the following occupations:

· Nurses (both registered nurses and licensed vocational nurses);
· Occupational Therapists;
· Physical Therapists;
· Medical Technologists;
· Medical Technicians;
· Speech Language Pathologists and Audiologists; and
· Physicians Assistants.

Q: Who issues the Visa Screen?

The Visa Screen is the name given by the Commission on Graduates of Foreign Nursing Schools (CGFNS) for its certification. CGFNS is one body authorized by the USCIS to issue health care worker certifications for all of the above occupations. Physical Therapists can also obtain health care worker certifications from the Foreign Credentialing Commission on Physical Therapists (FCCPT). Occupational Therapists also have an alternative to CGFNS which is a certificate issued by the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy (NBCOT).

Q: Who needs a Visa Screen?

Anyone who will be working in the U.S. in the above occupations will be required to produce a Visa Screen. This means workers in the U.S. who will be applying for permanent residency and those in nonimmigrant status will need the visa screen. Workers in the above occupations who will be traveling to the U.S. to work in their fields will be required to produce a visa screen in order to obtain their U.S. visas and to submit to Airport Inspectors when entering the U.S. But, healthcare workers who have obtained their green cards will not be required to show a Visa Screen at the airport.

Foreign healthcare workers applying with the USCIS for an adjustment of status to lawful permanent residence (green card) or a nonimmigrant visa category such as H-1B must now submit a Visa Screen with their petition. This also applies to workers in a nonimmigrant status who wish to extend or change status. For example, a physical therapist whose H-1B status will expire in September will be required to submit a visa screen with the H-1B extension petition.

Q: What does the Visa Screen certify and does it take a long time to get?

Generally, the certification verifies the applicant’s education, training, licensing and experience are comparable to those required for a similar U.S. healthcare worker. It verifies that the applicant’s licenses are unencumbered and the alien has a level of competency in both written and oral English considered to be appropriate for performing the duties of the occupation.

This requires original transcripts and licenses to be sent directly to the credentialing body from the applicant’s school and home licensing bureau. This can be a very time consuming process. An applicant cannot forward his transcript and a copy of his license directly to CGFNS for example. They must be sent by the issuing agency and school.

Applicants will also be required to take and pass English language aptitude exams. Preparation time for these exams, or available test dates can also be time consuming. For Nurses and other health care workers requiring a bachelors degree, the following English language exams require the following passing scores:

· ETS: TOEFL: Paper-based 540, Computer-based 207; TWE: 4.0; TSE: 50;
· TOEIC Service International: TOEIC: 725; plus TWE: 4.0 and TSE: 50; or
· IELTS: 6.5 overall with spoken band score of 7.0 requiring an Academic module.

For Physical and Occupational Therapists, the following exams require the following passing scores:

· ETS: TOEFL: Paper-based 560, Computer-based 220; TWE: 4.5; TSE: 50.

Finally, occupations requiring less than a bachelor’s degree require the following passing scores:

· ETS: TOEFL: Paper-based 530, Computer-based 197; TWE: 4.0; TSE: 50;
· TOEIC Service International: TOEIC: 700; plus TWE: 4.0 and TSE: 50; or
· IELTS: 6.0 overall with spoken band score of 7.0 with the Academic or the General module.

An exception is made for graduates of health profession programs in Australia, Canada (except Quebec), Ireland, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States. They are deemed to have met the English language requirements by virtue of their studying in the English language.

Obtaining the Visa Screen is a very time consuming process. Healthcare workers who have not already obtained a visa screen should begin the process immediately to avoid any immigration delays or denials in their cases. Visa Screens will be valid for five years only. So, Visa Screens should also be kept current until one obtains the green card.