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Posted on: September 19th, 2016
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Don’t Stop at the RN: Why Some Foreign Nurses Should Consider Master’s Degree Programs

By Elissa Taub

As an immigration attorney for healthcare professionals, one of the hardest phone calls I get is from RNs who would like a US employer to sponsor them for H-1B status in the US. They quickly learn that US immigration policy largely excludes RNs from the H-1B classification. For this reason, some nurses are well-advised to go back to nursing school to become an Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN) to better their chances of qualifying for H-1B status.

USCIS policy regarding H-1Bs for RNs is very clear: “Registered nurses generally do not qualify for H-1B classification. This is because most RN positions do not normally require a US bachelor’s or higher degree….” USCIS Policy Memorandum, PM-602-0104, Adjudication of H-1B Petitions for Nursing Occupations (Feb. 18, 2015).  Because of this USCIS policy, even RNs who possess a bachelor’s degree are not necessarily qualified for an H-1B because USCIS does not believe that most RN positions require a bachelor’s degree as a minimum qualification.

In contrast, in the same policy memorandum cited above, USCIS agrees that most APRNs will qualify for H-1B status, because APRN positions typically require a bachelor’s or higher level degree. In fact, many APRN positions require a master’s degree as a minimum educational credential. APRN positions that USCIS agrees will qualify for H-1B status include, but are not limited to:

  • Certified Nurse Midwife (CNW)
  • Certified Clinical Nurse Specialist (CCNS)
  • Certified Nurse Practitioner (CNP)
  • Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA)

While some RNs might benefit from alternative options to the H-1B, those who have no other option could realize at least two benefits from qualifying as an APRN through a US-based master’s degree in nursing (MSN) program. First, as mentioned above APRNs have a much greater ability to qualify for H-1B status because USCIS acknowledges those positions are specialty occupations.

Second, and potentially just as important, where an individual obtains a US-based master’s degree to qualify as an APRN, the individual is much more likely to obtain an H-1B within the annual limit.  In each federal fiscal year, the US government limits the number of H-1Bs that may be approved to 65,000. This is known as the “H-1B cap.” Some H-1B petitions are exempt from the H-1B cap. One of the available exemptions is for individuals who obtained master’s or higher level degrees in the US, but it is limited to only 20,000 petitions. This is sometimes called the “master’s cap,” even though it is really a limited cap exemption and not a separate pool of capped visas. Nevertheless, individuals who qualify to apply under the master’s cap have a much greater chance of having their petitions selected in years when a lottery is conducted.

For all of these reasons, becoming an APRN might have significant H-1B benefits for some nurses. For those individuals who need H-1B status to continue working in the US, continuing their education to obtain a master’s degree is a great option.


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