Certain health care workers are required to have health care worker certificates in order to be admitted. (Authority: INA §212(a)(5)(c)) The certificate, often referred to by the trademarked name VisaScreen®, serves as an evaluation in regards to education, training, license, experience, and English proficiency. The application process can take months unless expedited, and involves expense. The certificate therefore presents a key timing issue for immigration purposes.
The occupations requiring certificates include:
- Nurses (Licensed Practical Nurses, Licensed Vocational Nurses, and Registered Nurses )
- Physical Therapists
- Occupational Therapists
- Speech-language Pathologists and Audiologists
- Medical Technologists (also known as Clinical Laboratory Scientists)
- Medical Technicians (also known as Clinical Laboratory Technicians)
- Physician Assistants
Even if the health care worker trained in the U.S., they still must acquire the certificate. Also, NAFTA TN workers are required to obtain the certificate, as well as other nonimmigrant and immigrant applicants who are arriving for health care purposes. The certificate is not required, though, if a person is applying for permanent residence based on another purpose, such as an immediate relative spouse.
The Commission on Graduates of Foreign Nursing Schools (www.cgfns.org) is authorized to issue certifications to all 7 health care occupations. Additionally, the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy (NBCOT) is authorized to issue certifications for occupational therapists, and the Foreign Credentialing Commission on Physical Therapy (FCCPT) is authorized to issue certifications for physical therapists.
The health care certificate serves as verification of education equivalency, licensing eligibility, and requisite English language skills. The Screen includes an English language proficiency examination. For registered nurses, the health care certificate also includes verification that the RN has passed either CGFNS’s qualifying exam, NCLEX-RN, or for select years and provinces its predecessor, the State Board Test Pool Examination.
For immigrant petitions, credentials will be reviewed by USCIS at the I-140 stage, but the actual certification is not required until the adjustment or consular processing stage. For nonimmigrants, the certificate must be available at time of visa issuance and admission.
There is an expedited procedure. There are also certain exceptions, relating to English language proficiency (e.g. graduate of certain schools in Canada, Australia, Ireland, U.K., or U.S., as well as educational comparability in certain professions).
Certifications are issued for only five years, and must be used for admission, extension or change of status, or adjustment, within that period. See 8 CFR 212.15(n)(4). If not used, a new certification is required subsequent to expiration. If used, but now expired, a limited renewal must be obtained, to verify no adverse actions have occurred, and to confirm anew English competency. See 8 CFR 212.15(k)(4)(viii).
It is not uncommon for U.S. Customs and Border Protection to deny admission to a health care worker for lack of a certificate, or because a certificate is now expired. This can be a difficult situation, for employer and employee, which may be avoided through attention to the requirement and timing. Another issue that comes up from time to time is a denial of entry for certain radiation related professionals, who do not require the certificate, but are asked for one just the same. Training issues like this have to be handled on a case by case basis.