U.S. immigration options for Filipino nurses today

by Cristina A. Godinez, Esq.

Nurse Supervisor at VMMC in Quezon City | PNA photo by Oliver Marquez via Wikimedia Commons

The U.S. nurse staffing shortage is already nearing crisis levels as the pandemic takes its toll on healthcare frontliners. It has reached the point where the nurses themselves took to the streets in New York City to call for action.

There is no quick fix for a staffing shortage that had been festering for years only to be made worse by the Covid-19 pandemic. But healthcare facilities are not helpless. Despite the broken U.S. immigration system, there are still options for nurse immigration.

Now is as good a time as any to start drawing up a multi-year staff acquisition plan for bringing in foreign Registered Nurses (RNs).

Ideally, foreign nurses may come to the U.S. as immigrant workers or as temporary (or nonimmigrant) workers.

The Immigrant Visa (Green Card) Option

The most preferred manner of entry into the U.S. nursing profession is the immigrant visa (or green card) option.

Do you know that visas are available for most Filipino workers who are immigrating to the U.S.?

For Filipino nurses immigrating to the U.S., there is currently no visa backlog that used to stretch to about 5 years.

Visa backlogs occur when the number of immigrant visa applications exceeds the annual visa quota under the law. And since many Filipinos seek to immigrate to the U.S., the visa quotas for the Philippines are generally oversubscribed.

The immigrant visa option means a healthcare facility can sponsor a foreign nurse for a full-time, permanent job in the U.S. Therefore, the foreign nurse enters the U.S. as an immigrant, ready and able to work at the earliest opportunity.

The U.S. immigration process for nurses is relatively shorter and less complicated than for other professions. U.S. medical facilities and nursing homes that sponsor Filipino RNs need not go through the lengthy and costly step of applying for foreign labor certification because nursing is already pre-certified as a shortage occupation.

“With immigrant visas currently available to Filipino nurses without waiting for several years, there is good reason for medical and nursing facilities to consider foreign nurse recruitment as part of a comprehensive staff acquisition plan.”

In general, Filipino nurses planning to immigrate to the U.S. should have passed the National Council Licensure Exam (NCLEX) for nurses and the English language proficiency test (IELTS Academic). They must also possess a nursing degree, an unrestricted RN license in the Philippines, nursing experience, and credentials evaluation by the Commission on Graduates of Foreign Nursing Schools (CGFNS). They must also meet state-specific nurse licensing requirements.

With immigrant visas currently available to Filipino nurses without waiting for several years, there is good reason for medical and nursing facilities to consider foreign nurse recruitment as part of a comprehensive staff acquisition plan.

Temporary Working Visas

Among the nonimmigrant visa options, the most popular is the H-1B working visa for professionals.

The H-1B visa program is for workers who will fill U.S. positions that are considered “specialty” or “professional” occupations, meaning a worker must have at least a bachelor’s degree or its equivalent for entry in these jobs. Examples of specialty occupations are engineers, certain Information Technology professionals, teachers, accountants, financial managers, occupational therapists, etc. Many RN positions in the U.S. do not qualify for H-1B because they do not normally require a U.S. bachelor’s or higher degree in nursing (or its equivalent) as the minimum requirement for entry-level positions.

“The nursing shortage is likely to get worse before it gets better. Medical facilities and nursing homes can still get ahead if they plan ahead. Foreign nurse sponsorship can be part of that plan.”

Regulations, however, have clarified that there are 3 general groups of nursing jobs that may be eligible for H-1B visa sponsorship: first, nursing jobs at facilities under the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) Magnet Recognition program; second, highly specialized and complex nursing jobs that require at least a bachelor’s degree like addiction nurses, critical care nurses, nephrology, cardiac or pediatric nurses, etc., and third, Advanced Practice Registered Nurses (APRN), such as Certified Nurse- Midwife, Certified Nurse Practitioner or Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist.

The H-1B visa allows the nurse to work in the U.S. for a maximum period of six (6) years. One major advantage of this type of visa is that an H-1B worker is allowed to concurrently pursue his/her green card case while working in the U.S.

There are also temporary working visas for Filipino nurses who have become naturalized citizens of other countries, such as the TN visas for Canadian and Mexican citizens or the E-3 professional visas for Australian citizens.

The nursing shortage is likely to get worse before it gets better. Medical facilities and nursing homes can still get ahead if they plan ahead. Foreign nurse sponsorship can be part of that plan.


Cristina Godinez is an attorney who has provided immigration solutions to families, businesses, and at-risk migrants in the United States for over 15 years, with a particular focus on the immigration of foreign nurses and other healthcare workers. She worked with the immigration law practice group of a top-tier global law firm and later with the world’s largest immigration law firm. She developed the immigration legal services program at the faith-based Migrant Center of New York. Cristina is a member of the American Immigration Lawyers Association.

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