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What Foreign-Trained Nurses Need to Know About Sponsorship in the USA

By Jasmine Howard

If you’re a foreign-trained registered nurse, you may dream of immigrating to the U.S. to begin or continue your career. While immigrating to the U.S. as a foreign-trained nurse can be a lengthy process, it’s definitely possible and attainable for many nurses, since the U.S. is experiencing a nursing shortage. But because filling out the paperwork for a U.S. work visa is a long and complex process, the easiest way to realize your dreams of working in the U.S. as a nurse is to get sponsorship.

How can you get sponsorship? Contact a staffing agency, such as Velocity Healthcare and Onward Healthcare, which specializes in placing foreign-trained nurses in American hospitals and clinics. Verify that your training meets American professional standards for registered nurses.

You’ll need to pass the NCLEX exam, a requirement for American nurse licensure, and be a registered nurse — licensed vocational nurses and practical nurses are not legally allowed to work in the U.S.

Work Visa Prescreens for Nurses

The United States currently only issues work visas for registered nurses and advanced practice nurses, so you’ll need to obtain U.S. national licensure as a registered nurse by taking the NCLEX. This exam tests your ability to work as a registered nurse. If you weren’t trained as a nurse in the United States, you may need to pursue further nursing education before you can obtain licensure, but doing so can open up even more nursing opportunities.

Your first step should be to contact the Commission on Graduates of Foreign Nursing Schools (CGFNS). The CGFNS can perform a prescreening that will let you know if you’re likely to pass the NCLEX or if you need to develop further skills. They’ll review your nursing education, your current license to practice nursing in your home country, and your level of fluency and literacy in English. They can also administer a predictor exam that will give you some idea of how well you’ll do on the NCLEX.

In America, each state may have its own requirements for nursing licensure, in addition to the NCLEX. If you have some idea of what state you’d like to live and work in, you may want to contact the National Council of State Boards of Nursing for more information about applying for licensure in a specific state. Most often the requirements are similar between states and you just need to apply for licensure and pay a fee. However, if you look for sponsorship as a nurse through a staffing agency, the agency should be able to help you make sure you meet any state requirements.

Get Sponsorship Through a Staffing Agency

Nurses who want to immigrate to the United States have a few visa options. Canadian and Mexican nurses may work in the United States on a special TN visa as long as they have an offer of employment, have a license to practice in their home country, and pass the NCLEX and state licensure requirements.

Nurses who have at least a four-year degree and fulfill a specialized nursing role, such as critical care nurses, emergency room nurses, or cardiology nurses, may be able to qualify for an H-1B temporary work visa, and apply for a green card once they are in the States. There are even a very limited number of H-1C visas available for nurses who want to work in underserved hospitals.

However, for the vast majority of foreign-trained nurses, the easiest way to immigrate to the U.S. is by getting a permanent work visa, also known as a green card. It takes about a year for a green card application to go through and you’ll have to wait outside the U.S. until you get it.

That’s why you should get sponsorship; many employers want to hire a nurse who can start work right away, not one who can’t start until a year from now. But, due to the nursing shortage in the U.S., many hospitals realize they’ll still need nurses in a year’s time and are willing to go through the sponsorship process with a staffing agency. Most staffing agencies make the visa sponsorship process as painless as possible.

They find you a job and take care of the mountains of paperwork involved. All you have to do is take the NCLEX and, if necessary, fill in any gaps in your nursing education with some further training, which can be done online. If you have a spouse and kids under 21, they will be able to come with you. Since many American hospitals now want nurses who have at least a BSN, you may want to begin earning this degree online while you’re waiting for your visa application to go through. Most American employers will give you up to 10 years to complete your BSN after being hired.

Living and working in the United States is a common dream for many around the world, and it’s one that’s possible to realize if you’re a nurse. The easiest way to get sponsorship is to contact a staffing agency that specializes in placing foreign-trained nurses in American hospitals. Before you know it, you could be living a whole new life in the USA.

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