H1B Visas for Nurses – Can they qualify?

As attorneys that work with Hospitals and medical professionals, we always get questions from clients about the H1B visa. Can Nurses really get this visa, and if so how?
The H1B visa program, which has a current allocation of 65,000 visas per year (This year visas are still open and up for grabs), allows foreign professionals to work in the U.S. for a limited duration. In this visa category, a U.S. employer offers a job to a foreign professional that requires a bachelor’s or higher degree, or its equivalent as the minimum entry requirement.

Nevertheless, there is a problem for nurses getting H1B visas. The USCIS applies a different rule for nurses. The USCIS (guided by a determination by the U.S. Department of Labor, as published in the Occupational Outlook Handbook) says that there is no industry-wide standard that a nurse needs a baccalaureate degree to perform the duties of a professional registered nurse. In many states, a nurse can obtain a professional registered nursing license after completion of only a two-year program and successful passage of a state licensing examination. Thus, according to the USCIS, foreign nurses are not eligible for H1B in general RN positions.

In a memorandum it issued four years ago, the USCIS relaxed its hard stand on foreign nurses. It said that while general RN positions are not H1B eligible, nurses in the following positions qualify for H1B: (1) Advanced practice nurses, (2) Nurses in administrative positions, and (3) Nurses in certain nursing specialties. Thus, nurses who wish to obtain H1B visas have to be petitioned only in those three RN positions, but not in general RN positions.

In a recent posting by Attorney Chris Musillo, he stated the following:

There are two key concepts:
1. The nurse must hold at least a Bachelors degree in nursing (e.g. BSN); AND
2. The position must normally require a Bachelors degree. MU has seen the most success in these scenarios:
A. The hospital is offering the nurse a position as a Clinical nurse specialist (CNS), Certified registered nurse anesthetist (CRNA), Certified nurse-midwife (CNM), or a Certified nurse practitioner (APRN-certified) Critical care and the nurse holds the certification;
B. If the nurse will be working in an Administrative position ordinarily associated with a Bachelors degree, such as Charge Nurse or Nurse Manager;
C. If the nurse will be working in one of these specialties: peri-operative, school health, occupational health, rehabilitation nursing, emergency room nursing, critical care, operating room, oncology and pediatrics. And the hospital will attest that these roles are only offered to those with Bachelors degrees. Some magnet hospitals have the BSN as its standards, and these make great destination hospitals for H-1 RNs.

With careful planning and with the right position even Nurses can apply for H1B visas, now more than ever with 15,000 visas still open.