When Nurses Can Qualify for an H-1B Visa to the U.S.

As specialized as nurses are, only those at the highest levels stand a good chance of approval for an H-1B visa as a temporary specialty worker.

The question of whether nurses might qualify for H-1B visas comes up a lot within immigration law. At first glance, the H-1B might look like a good match for this occupation. After all, H-1B visas are for temporary workers in specialty occupations, and nurses are both educated and specialized. And the U.S. has a number of jobs in nursing needing to be filled.

Indeed, some nurses have been able to get the H-1B visa—but many others have not. This article will look into the reasons for this apparent conflict, and discuss what types of nurses might successfully obtain an H-1B visa for work in the United States.

Types of Nurses Who Can Qualify for an H-1B Visa

Only some types of nursing jobs qualify the person hired for an H-1B visa. These are typically nurse manager or advanced practice roles, which require a bachelor of science (B.S.) in nursing or perhaps a master of science (M.S.) degree.

The ordinary RN or LPN position normally requires only a two-year degree. This difference in the educational requirement is what separates the nursing jobs that qualify for H-1B visas from those that do not.

As explained more fully in the many Nolo articles on the H-1B visa, only "specialty occupations" qualify for H-1B visas. Specialty occupations are (generally speaking) those for which the employer normally requires at least a bachelor's degree in a specific field, or for which the industry standard is to require a specific bachelor's degree.

This standard makes it difficult, if not impossible, for an RN to get an H-1B visa, because a bachelor's degree is not necessary to work as an RN. If an employer could demonstrate that it hires only RNs with bachelor's degrees, it might be possible to obtain the H-1B visa, but it would be an uphill battle.

Unlike the typical RN position, the more senior roles of nurse manager or advanced practice registered nurse can qualify for H-1B visas, because the job requirements meet, and sometimes exceed, the minimum specialty occupation standard. The level of responsibility of these jobs demands more education, and it usually is fairly easy to document this through job postings and internal job descriptions that include the BSN or MS degree as a minimum job requirement. To be sure, the nurse also must have the corresponding degree, a certification from the Commission on Graduates of Foreign Nursing Schools, and a state license.

How U.S. Immigration Authorities Explain Their Approach to H-1B Approvals for Nurses

In a July 11, 2014 policy memorandum on the status of RNs' eligibility for the H-1B visa, USCIS confirmed the longstanding reality that most RN positions do not qualify for H-1B visas.

The memo, which served as an update to a November 2002 memo on the topic, also mentioned the continuing possibility for nurse manager and advanced practice roles to qualify and specifically mentioned several advanced jobs as examples: certified nurse-midwife, certified clinical nurse specialist, certified nurse practitioner, and certified registered nurse anesthetist.

But these are merely examples of jobs that may qualify. The key question remains whether the actual job requires at least a bachelor's degree in nursing or the particular advanced area.

In an interesting and unfortunate development, as of the November 2002 USCIS memo, North Dakota RN licensure laws required candidates to have completed a bachelor's degree in Nursing. USCIS therefore explained in the 2002 memo that RNs seeking to work in North Dakota would qualify for H-1B visas. The memo further noted that additional guidance would be forthcoming if other states adopt the same standard.

As of the July 2014 memo, North Dakota no longer requires a bachelor's degree, and there are no other states that require a bachelor's degree to obtain an RN license. As discussed above, this essentially makes it nearly impossible for an entry-level RN to get an H-1B visa.

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