USCIS: More Nurses May Qualify for H-1B Visas

By Roy Maurer Aug 19, 2014

Responding to a predicted shortage of nurses in the United States, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has expanded the pool of nurses who may qualify for H-1B visas.

This is the first new guidance on H-1B eligibility for nurses since 2002, in which time the nursing industry has undergone some changes, including requiring higher education for certain nursing areas. Nurses in these fields may now be eligible for H-1B visas, according to USCIS.

U.S. employers petition for H-1B visas for temporary workers in specialty occupations, defined as jobs that require highly specialized knowledge or the attainment of a bachelor’s or higher degree in the specific specialty.

Most registered nurse (RN) positions are not qualified as a specialty occupation because they do not normally require a U.S. bachelor’s or higher degree in nursing as the minimum for entry into those positions. Instead, most RN positions require an associate’s degree or certificate of nursing.

Some positions have been exceptions to the rule. Advanced practice registered nurse positions such as certified nurse-midwife, certified clinical nurse specialist and certified nurse practitioner have been H-1B eligible because they require an advanced level of education and training.

USCIS has acknowledged “changes in the nursing industry” and specifically, employers “increasingly showing a preference for more highly educated nurses,” as the impetus to revisit H-1B qualifications for nurses. “Although the [associate’s degree] is still the most common degree people pursue to become an RN, nursing candidates are increasingly pursuing [bachelor’s of science] degrees,” the agency said.

USCIS is reconsidering RN positions that focus on specialized patient populations and said that depending on the facts of the case, nurses in these fields may qualify as specialty occupations:

  • Addiction.
  • Cardiovascular health.
  • Critical care.
  • Emergency room.
  • Genetics.
  • Neonatology.
  • Nephrology.
  • Oncology.
  • Operating room.
  • Pediatrics.
  • Rehabilitation.

Additionally, USCIS indicated that if a state requires at least a bachelor’s degree to obtain a nursing license, an RN position in that state would be considered a specialty occupation. All 50 states, Washington, D.C., and the U.S. territories each require nurses to hold nursing licenses, though none of them require a bachelor’s degree to become licensed.

Establishing ‘Specialty Occupation’

When assessing whether an RN position meets the evidentiary standard, USCIS takes into account several factors, including the nature of the employer’s business, industry practices, duties to be performed, certification requirements, the American Nurses Credentialing Center Magnet Recognition status, wages paid in relation to other nurses, specialty training and clinical experience requirements.

Roy Maurer is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

Follow him at @SHRMRoy

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