Credential Certifications for Non-Physician Healthcare Workers

Posted on: August 26th, 2015
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By Elissa Taub

Certain foreign national healthcare workers who seek to work in the US must obtain a special certification from a USCIS-approved credentialing organization.[1] The certification must verify that the worker has met the minimum training, licensure and English proficiency requirements for the occupation.

The following eight occupations require a healthcare worker certification:

  • Nurses (LPN, RN, licensed vocational nurses)
  • Physical therapists
  • Occupational therapists
  • Speech-language pathologists
  • Audiologists
  • Medical technologists
  • Medical technicians
  • Physician assistants

 

All foreign nationals who seek to work in the US in the listed occupations must obtain a healthcare worker certificate no matter where they attended school, whether in the US or abroad. The certificate must be presented any time a worker in any of the listed occupations seeks admission to the US, changes status, extends status or adjust status to that of lawful permanent resident. For this reason, it is important to know the certification requirements of the particular occupation and for a worker to apply as early as possible for the certification.

For all of these occupations, the Commission on Graduates of Foreign Nursing Schools (“CGFNS”) issues a certificate called a “VisaScreen” that provides the necessary credentials assessment. A VisaScreen involves the following:

  1. An assessment that the worker’s education is comparable to that of a US graduate in the same profession;
  2. A verification that all professional health care licenses that the worker ever held are valid and without restriction; and
  3. An English language proficiency exam;
  4. For registered nurses, the VisaScreen also verifies that the nurse passed either the CGFNS Qualifying Exam or the NCLEX-RN.

 

Instructions for how to apply for a VisaScreen through CGFNS may be found at www.cgfns.org. Typical processing time of a VisaScreen application is eight weeks, though CGFNS offers expedited review within five business days for an extra application fee.

Even though CGFNS is authorized to issue VisaScreen certifications for all the healthcare occupations listed above, USCIS has authorized two additional organizations to issue healthcare worker certificates for specific occupations. The Foreign Credential Commission on Physical Therapy (“FCCPT) is authorized to issue certifications for physical therapists. The National Board of Certification in Occupational Therapy (“NBCOT”) is authorized to issue certifications for occupational therapists. Both organizations provide assessments similar to what CGFNS provides but are geared toward the specific professions for which they were authorized, so it is advisable for physical and occupational therapists to obtain certificates through FCCPT or NBCOT.

FCCPT issues a “Comprehensive Credential Evaluation Review (Type I Certificate)” for individuals who need a healthcare worker certificate to satisfy immigration requirement. Instructions for how to apply for a Type I Certificate from FCCPT may be found at www.fccpt.org. FCCPT typically completes review on Type I Certificate applications within eight weeks. Many state licensure boards accept or even require Type I Certificates before they will issue physical therapist licenses, so obtaining the certificate is crucial early in the employment process.

NBCOT issues a “Visa Credential Verification Certificate” (“VCVC”) to individuals coming to the US to work in the field of occupational therapy. Only occupational therapists who pass the NBCOT Certification Examination for Occupational Therapist Registered OTR are eligible to apply for a VCVC. Instructions for how to apply for a VCVC from NBCOT are available at www.nbcot.org/certificants-international-visas. NBCOT typically completes review and issues VCVCs within 10 business days of approval.

All of the organizations – CGFNS, FCCPT and NBCOT – issues healthcare worker certificates that are valid for five years and are renewable. Each organization has its own procedures for handling renewals. It is important to renew the certificate as it nears expiration unless and until the worker becomes a permanent resident of the US.

 

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Disclaimer: This newsletter is provided as a public service and not intended to establish an attorney client relationship. Any reliance on information contained herein is taken at your own risk.

 

[1]  Physicians have different certification requirements, which are not within the scope of this article.