Some nurses, nurse recruiters, immigration experts and hospitals are accusing the Commission on Graduates of Foreign Nursing Schools of delaying or denying the applications of an unknown number of qualified immigrants, according to an extensive exposè published in the Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper. At a time when one in ten nursing jobs in the US is vacant, there are widespread complaints that CGFNS acts as a monopoly with inaccessible customer service and whose slow processing is delaying visas for nurses by many months. CGFNS is a nonprofit screening company that oversees foreign nurse credent verifying. Under the 1996 Immigration Act, Congress requires that health care workers have their credentials verified before being admitted to the US. That requirement is in addition to the verification process that every state licensing board goes through. CGFNS CGFNS reportedly lobbied for the insertion of this requirement into the 1996 Act.
Experts are concerned that waiting times may worsen in July, when CGFNS will start screening thousands of Canadian nurses, whose current NAFTA-based exemption will end under a new federal rule. Because foreign recruitment is one technique for dealing with the nursing shortage, anything that slows the recruitment process greatly worries hospitals. There is already extensive advocacy work taking place by groups like the American Hospital Association and the American Immigration Lawyers Association to delay the July implementation date.
Beyond screening nurse visa applicants, the company runs interference for state nursing boards. Forty states require foreign-educated nurses seeking a license to first to pass the CGFNS qualifying test. The test is given a few times each year at 40 foreign and 9 US cities and predicts whether the applicant will pass the national nursing-board exam, which is a requirement in order to obtain a state license. Only after nurses get their certificate from the Commission on Graduates of Foreign Nursing Schools may they apply for a visa at a US consulate.
CGFNS contends that some are bound to get upset by its meticulous process of scrutinizing education and credentials, testing nursing knowledge, verifying language ability and checking for fraud. Spokesmen said the vast majority of qualified nurses pass its reviews smoothly. They do, however, admit that the company had trouble with its filing and customer-service systems and has made costly investments in the last year to fix them.
With immigrants now accounting for a third of new US nurses each year, some hospitals, recruiters and regulators are demanding alternatives or improvements to the company’s screening process, which can take six months to two years.
The number-one complaint of customers has been the inability to contact the company. According press statements by CGFNS, about one-third to one-half of the 1,300 daily phone calls to its customer-service line in Philadelphia end in busy signals, hang-ups or automatic disconnects after a long wait. However, the company says that it is trying to fix these problems. Applicants can now check their status through a new automated phone system or through the Web. It also has more customer service representatives to answer the phones and e-mails.
CGFNS may not retain the monopoly that it has now. Two firms have expressed interest in competing. The CGFNS’ board president told the press that it welcomes the competition.