By Robert L. Reeves & Natalie Joy Ang

On May 11, 2005, Congress enacted a variety of immigration measures including allotment of an additional 50,000 visas for Registered Nurses (“RNs”) and Physical Therapists (“PTs”). The State Department predicts that visas for RNs and PTs will remain current through the Fiscal Year (“FY”) 2006 which ends September 30, 2006. Due to the high volume of applications in this category the State Department anticipates a shortage in visa availability and that a cutoff date may be established in early FY 2007. In light of this possibility we urge all foreign RNs and PTs to file their immigrant visa petitions and for RNs and PTs in the United States to file for adjustment of status.

RNs and PTs are classified as “Schedule A” employment-based petitions. The Department of Labor (“DOL”) pre-certified RNs and PTs as shortage occupations several years ago. This pre-certification allows foreign RNs and PTs to quickly immigrate to the United States. Pre-certification allows employers to directly petition the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (“USCIS”) for an immigrant visa and bypass the labor certification process as long as visa availability remains current. Pre-certification shaves off significant processing time to obtain permanent residency status.

The United States requires that immigrating RNs and PTs obtain a “visa screen” certificate 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. The three English tests currently accepted are the Test of English as a Foreign Language (“TOEFL”), the Test for English in International Communication (“TOEIC”), and the International English Language Testing System (“IELTS”). CGFNS verifies that the nurse has either passed the nursing knowledge exam or the National Counsel Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (“NCLEX-RN”). PT applicants must have a license in the state of intended employment or have a letter from the licensing agency stating that the applicant is qualified to take the state licensing examination. PTs also have the option to go through the Foreign Credentialing Commission on Physical Therapy (“FCCPT”) to obtain their visa screen.

The CGFNS and FCCPT take several months to issue a visa screen once all the requirements and exam results are submitted. Therefore, it is important for RNs and PTs to begin this process as soon as possible. Once a visa screen is issued it may then be submitted to the U.S. Consulate along with the approved immigrant visa petition. RNs and PTs already in the U.S. must have the visa screen to adjust their status to that of legal permanent resident with the USCIS.

State Department predictions are based on current laws and limitations. Although the State Department forecasts a shortage of visas for RNs and PTs by the end of the year, recent debates over immigration reform include measures to increase quotas for employment-based petitions including those for RNs and PTs. Until we are more certain what visa availability will look like it is important for foreign RNs and PTs in the U.S. and overseas to file their immigrant visa petitions and related applications as soon as possible. In the event that visa availability is no longer current, foreign RNs and PTs will have the advantage of having their case in queue for processing. If RNs and PTs in the U.S. timely file their applications and the visa numbers run out, they will be allowed to renew their work authorizations while waiting for visa numbers to once again become available.

Due to changing circumstances we recommend that employment-based applicants consult with knowledgeable and experienced immigration attorneys. For more information on RNs and PTs please visit our website at www.rreeves.com.