U.S. Immigration Options for Nurses


Labor shortages in healthcare have led to a growing demand for international nurses to fill vacancies at public and private hospitals and medical facilities.


Below we reference variations of established U.S. immigration strategies as applied to nurses by order of anticipated viability. Please refer to the hyperlinked pages for more information about each visa classification.


Considered the “default” professional visa, the threshold requirements for H-1B visa qualification are U.S. licensure and a Bachelor’s degree as a minimum requirement for the occupation. It’s often difficult for international nurses to secure the appropriate licensure, and entry-level nurse occupations often do not qualify as they generally do not require a Bachelor’s degree in Nursing or a related field as a minimum requirement. However, USCIS has repeatedly stated the following nurse occupations may qualify:

  • Clinical Nurse Specialists (CNS) (Ex. Acute Care, Adult, Critical Care, Gerontological, Family, Hospice and Palliative Care, Neonatal, Pediatric, Psychiatric and Mental Health-Adult, Psychiatric and Mental Health-Child, and Women’s Health)
  • Nurse Practitioner (NP) (Ex. Acute Care, Adult, Family, Gerontological, Pediatric, Psychiatric & Mental Health, Neonatal, and Women’s Health)
  • Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA)
  • Certified Nurse-Midwife (CNM).

Certain other nurse positions can qualify through proof that the work is “so specialized and complex that the knowledge required to perform the duties is usually associated with the attainment of a baccalaureate or higher degree” or “so complex or unique that it can be performed only by an individual with a degree.” Certain states which require nurses to obtain a Bachelor’s degree in nursing also present strong arguments for qualification.

The H-1B visa category generally requires an annual lottery for new H-1B visa processes. Exceptions are H-1B visa holders who have been counted against the lottery and have time remaining or an exception to the six-year maximum period of H-1B status, in addition to certain employers. Universities, hospitals and other employers which are affiliated with a University, and nonprofit/government research institutions are exempt from this lottery as well.

Qualified nurses who are citizens of Singapore, Chile, or Australia may have a readily available strategy which is nearly identical to the H-1B visa category, except not subject to this annual lottery, under the nonimmigrant visa categories of H-1B1 Specialty Occupation Professionals from Singapore and Chile and E-3 Specialty Occupation Professionals from Australia.


Citizens of Canada and Mexico who possess either a State/Provincial License or a Bachelor’s Degree from the U.S., Canada, or Mexico can apply under this visa category to work as a Registered Nurse (RN) in the United States. The RN applicant must generally also possess a VisaScreen Certificate issued by the Commission on Graduates of Foreign Nursing Schools (CGFNS) and licensure in the U.S. state where they will work.


The common pathway for permanent residency would be through a PERM Labor Certification formal test of the labor market, followed by an immigrant petition and application for an immigrant visa or permanent resident green card. As permanent residency strategies can take 2-3 years in processing times, plus the potential for delays in immigrant visa / green card availability, it’s recommended to consider whether starting both the short-term nonimmigrant and long-term immigrant strategies at the same time may be recommended. A faster option called “Schedule A” may be available to sponsor certain nurses, which should be reviewed with an experienced U.S. business immigration attorney.

The above is informational and not intended to be legal advice. Please consult with an experienced business immigration attorney on your specific facts and circumstances before proceeding with any U.S. immigration strategy.