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Sunday, May 24, 2009

‘Special’ immigrant visas for nurses

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Last week we posted an article about the possibility of staying and working in the U.S. legally if you are here on a tourist visa, which involves finding a willing employer to sponsor your H-1B nonimmigrant working visa.

Early this week, two Filipino tourists who are registered nurses in the Philippines inquired if they can be sponsored by an employer and work here under the H-1B visa program, since there is an acute need for medical workers, in particular, RNs, in the U.S.

It is true that there is a big demand for health workers simply because there are not enough medical workers to fill up these positions. Even with the rising number of schools, hospitals and other medical facilities, the U.S. keeps recruiting medical workers and is in fact even hiring health professionals from other countries, including the Philippines.

Despite the need however, nurses and other medical professionals are not considered “specialty occupations” as I had described last week. Specialty occupations are the prerequisite for an H-1B visa, which means that there should be an underlying uniqueness in the occupation that allows foreigners to fill these positions.

You don’t need to be a linguist to perform your duties as a nurse. You don’t have to learn special unique skills in this job category. On the contrary, the medical profession is universal. Thus, it doesn’t qualify as an H-1B profession. (For more information, please visit and click on Atty. James G. Beirne on immigration.)

But what’s special with medical workers – in this case the Filipino nurses – is that there seems to be a wide acceptance of these health workers from the Philippines in most U.S. hospitals. Not only are they getting paid handsomely, Filipinos here in the U.S. and especially in the Philippines have been looking to become nurses if not urging their sons and daughters to become one. And who would’ve thought that some doctors in the Philippines would even go back to medical school to become a nurse? (Unfortunately, unlike nurses, Filipino doctors can’t just come here and work as doctors. U.S. doctors have very restrictive rules that prevent the entry of foreign doctors.)

Be that as it may, the “special” immigrant visa for nurses and physical therapists called Schedule A that allowed them to come to the U.S. has quickly been used up – 50,000 immigrant visas in all. In May 2005, Schedule A visas were mandated by Congress because of the nursing shortage by allocating unused immigrant visas from 2001-2004. That law provided for the exemption of nurses and physical therapists who could be employed without going through what used to be a laborious labor certification process. Many Filipino nurses took advantage of this special immigrant visa and many of them arrived straight from the Philippines and were able to get their immigrant visas in a short time.

It was in January 2007 when the remaining number of these visas was made available. Even then, the priority date for Schedule A workers was June 15, 2004. Since then, there have been no congressional actions to reinstate the Schedule A in spite of the need for medical workers and lobbying from the health industry. Thus, all nurses and physical therapists have since been subject to immigrant visa quotas under the Employment-Based Third Preference (EB3) category. And unfortunately, at this time, this category has been oversubscribed and remains unavailable for Filipinos and other countries.

However, we still encourage nurses from the Philippines to find a willing employer in the U.S. if they are already here so that a petition can be filed even if there are no available visas. A petition filed will give you a priority date and once they become available you assure yourself of a number and a place in line.


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