U.S. Employment Visa Options for Canadian Nurses

U.S. Employment Visa Options for Canadian Nurses

U.S. Employment Visa Options for Canadian Nurses

Canadian nurses have a few employment visa options to work in and potentially immigrate to United States.

Nursing is a very in-demand occupation in United States. In fact, the Department Of Labor has determined that there are not sufficient American workers who are able, willing, qualified, and available for the occupation of professional nurse, and that the wages and working conditions of similarly employed U.S. workers will not be adversely affected by the employment of foreign workers in this occupation.

This article will discuss, generally

  • What is the process to obtain a U.S. work visa? 

  • Timeline for each option? 

  • What can I expect from the process? 

Overview of Steps Required for U.S. Employment Visa 

Step 1: Obtain certification verifying education, training, experience, and language skills. This applies to registered nurses, licensed practical nurses, and licensed vocational nurses. 

Step 2: Determine whether you are interested in immigrant or non-immigrant status, if both are available. 

Step 3: Check how the laws of the state of intended impact the visa type you are applying for. 

Health Care Certification - Requirement applies to both immigrants and nonimmigrants

  • Also known as VisaScreen Certificates. 

  • Who is authorized to grant certification for nurses: Commission on Graduates of Foreign Nursing Schools (CGFNS):

    • Phone: (215) 349-8767 / Fax: (215) 349-0026
    • Websitewww.cgfns.org/
  • INA §212(r) provides an exception to the full Visa-Screen certificate established by INA §212(a)(5)(C), and establishes that a certified statement may be issued by CGFNS for a nurse who:

    • (1) the nurse has a valid, unrestricted license in the state of intended employment and that state verifies that foreign licenses of alien nurses are authentic and unencumbered;

    • (2) the nurse has passed the NCLEX-RN exam;

    • (3) the foreign national nurse’s entry-level nursing program language of instruction was English; 

    • (4) the entry-level nursing program was located in Australia, Canada (except Québec), Ireland, New Zealand, South Africa, the United Kingdom, the United States, or any other country designated by CGFNS; and 

    • (5) the nursing program was in operation before November 12, 1999, or has been approved by CGFNS. 

  • CGFNS has indicated that the following materials are required in support of an application for a certified statement: 

    • a letter from the nursing school verifying graduation with seal, signature, and a statement that English was the language of instruction and textbooks;

    • a license validation directly issued by the state of intended employment; and

    • passage of the NCLEX-RN exam. 

    • CGFNS does not require a transcript, an Academic Records Form or foreign license validations.

  • The certification is valid for 5 years from the date of issuance. 

Option 1: TN VISA 

  • Most widely used non-immigrant option for registered nurses.
  • Benefit type: non-immigrant visa 

  • Timeline: May be processed at the Port of Entry and issued the same day for up to 3 years and can be renewed indefinitely. The only exception would be if the border officer does not agree you meet the requirements and asks for more information.

  • Extensions can be granted in up to 3 year increments and you may file for an extension up to 6 months before your status expires.

  • Dependents (TD Status): means spouses and unmarried children under the age of 21. Canadian dependents do not require a visa. May attend school (without an F-1 student visa) but may not work. The only drawback is that since TD visa holders are considered non-residents, they may be subject to higher tuition fees. 

  • May be granted for a part-time position but have qualified employment (self-employment is not permitted). This visa is employer and employment specific.

  • Available to Canadian or Mexican citizens. 

  • Possess a baccalaureate or licenciatura degree in nursing or a state/ provincial license.  

  • Must have a health care certificate from CGFNS. 

  • For Canadians, a major benefit is the ability to apply at a Port of Entry or at a U.S. pre-clearance/ preflight station, rather than filing an application with USCIS. 

  • TN status holders may change jobs, or have more than one job, but USCIS must approve all new employment and the new employment cannot begin until the USCIS approves the employer's petition and the petition start date is reached, or the TN reenters the US, with an I-94 issued for the new job.

  • It is important to note that while the foreign national may qualify for TN status under its basic eligibility requirements, licensure by the appropriate state licensure board may be required for the profession. Licensure requirements vary from state-to-state.

  • All 50 states require licensure for practice of the profession. An RN who enters the United States based on a temporary license issued by the jurisdiction where services will be performed must pass the National Council Licensing Examination (NCLEX) administered by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN) within six months of the date of initial admission. 

  • For more information for each state board, see: https://www.ncsbn.org/171.htm 

  • Drawback to TN Visa: may not have “dual intent” (the intent to remain permanently in the United States). 

  • For more information, here's a guide I created that describes more of what the application process is like: Guide to TN Visa.

Option 2: EB-2 Schedule A 

  • Benefit type: immigrant visa 
  • Timeline: at least 4-12 months + immigrant visa processing/ adjustment of status.

  • Dependents: can receive their own green cards in order to become permanent residents (and eventually citizens if desired). While the process is ongoing, dependents may apply for an Employment Authorization Document which would give them the right to work in the United States.

  • Employment offer must be full-time, permanent employment and pay at least the prevailing wage.

  • The Department Of Labor has determined that there are not sufficient American workers who are able, willing, qualified, and available for the occupation of professional nurse, and that the wages and working conditions of similarly employed U.S. workers will not be adversely affected by the employment of foreign workers in Schedule A occupations.

  • Perk: Does not require PERM applications to test the job market whether a qualified US worker is available for the position. This can decrease the processing time of the application. 

Option 3: H1-B 

  • Benefit type: non-immigrant visa 

  • Timeline: at least 7-14 months 

  • Drawback: Based on lottery system

  • Typically only available for nurses filing an advanced practice nursing position and other specialized areas. 

  • Regulations require that the nurse meet state licensure criteria before an H1-B petition can be approved. The licensure may be permanent, temporary, or by performing the duties under supervision of a license senior. 

  • Many employers prefer immigrant processing over H1-B given the similar timelines.

  • Certain specialized areas may qualify, such as: 

    • Positions that require advanced practice registered nurses (APRN), including Clinical Nurse Specialists, Nurse Practitioners, Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists, and Certified Nurse-Midwives. 

    • Nurse administrative or supervisory positions, such as nurse manager. 

    • Nursing positions in a state that requires at least a bachelor’s degree in nursing.

    • Nursing positions that require a higher knowledge and skill than a typical registered nurse position, such as a critical care and pre-operative nurse positions. 

Option 4: H1-C 

  • Limited in number and in scope 

  • 500 H1-C visas granted per year and limited to 14 facilities in health professional shortage areas. 

  • Very infrequently used

Option 5: EB-3 Immigrant Visa 

  • Benefit type: immigrant visa 

  • There may not always be visas available in this category. 

  • The basic requirements are a nursing education and either the Commission on Graduates of Foreign Nursing Schools (CGFNS) certificate (which includes a credentials review, a nursing exam, and a test of English language), a full and unrestricted license to practice professional nursing in the state of intended employment, or evidence of successfully passing the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN or simply NCLEX).


Contact us if you have any questions or would like to discuss your specific situation. 

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