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How to guide foreign nurses to work in U.S.

BY: Eileen Williamson, MSN, RN on April 24, 2019

Foreign nurses often inquire about what is involved in immigrating to the U.S. and working here as RNs.

And sources agree there are many opportunities for them. So you need to be prepared to answer foreign nurses’ questions and provide helpful resources as they move through the process.foreign nurse

Common foreign nurse questions

Visas and sponsorships seem to generate the most frequent questions.

Regardless of the state in which a foreign nurse wants to live and practice, all foreign nurses will need a visa.

However, U.S. work visas are only issued to RNs and APNs because LPNs and LVNs are not eligible.

Also, it’s important to know a passport is not enough. A visa is required, and they are not the same document.

“The main difference between a visa and a passport is that a visa is an endorsement placed within a passport that grants the holder official permission to enter, leave or stay in a country for a specified time period,” according to an article on Envoy.

In all states, taking and successfully passing the NCLEX is mandatory for licensure to practice. Sponsorships are strongly recommended, but they are not mandatory.

Immigrating to the U.S. can be a long process for foreign nurses. But it’s definitely possible and attainable for those who are serious about working in the U.S.

Filling out the paperwork for a U.S. work visa can take a long time and be complex. One way foreign nurses can get help with this process is to find a sponsor.

“For nurses educated outside the United States, the first step to practicing as a nurse in the United States is to apply for a license with a state board of nursing, according to the Commission on Graduates of Foreign Nursing Schools (CGFNS). “All state boards require the NCLEX exam. Each state will have specific requirements to determine comparability of those educated outside of the United States. Each state board may require certain services to determine if you will be able to practice in the United States.”

To practice in a state that has additional requirements, information can be obtained from that state’s board of nursing. A full state board list is available here.

You can be foreign nurses’ biggest ally

Leaving family, friends and native countries to come to the U.S. to work and live while pursuing a new job with new people is a major undertaking.

As a recruiter, you’re likely to be the first frontline healthcare professional they will meet, so your guidance and experience will be crucial in getting them started on their journeys.

You need to be well-versed on the things foreign nurses might need help with and what they need to know, work on and take care of throughout the process. You can be their strongest ally.

What they are undertaking involves many changes — both personal and professional — and they are things we don’t often think about, such as different weather conditions, foods, languages, cultures and religions.

Foreign nurses face taking many tests, filling out forms, meeting new co-workers and bosses, getting to know new friends and neighbors, joining new social activities and more.

There’s also tasks such as:

  • Researching housing and deciding whether to buy or rent
  • Determining current purchase, lease and moving costs
  • Accessing information on employers in the area
  • Figuring out which roles and positions are in demand
  • Taking the temperature of the job market

Those are just some of the things foreign nurses must face. Other issues — such as costs involved in visiting families back home or having family members come to the U.S. — also need to be considered.

And then there are salary expectations, benefits, taxes, costs of continuing or advanced education, transportation and a driver’s license, to name a few. With all these things, you might want to find a nurse who has gone through the process already to put them in touch with for support.

Smooth the transition for foreign nurses

The road may be bumpy at times for foreign nurses, but as recruiters you can help by providing access to the right resources and information to smooth some of those bumps.

“Many foreign-educated health professionals have very positive experiences, but others can fall victim to unethical recruitment practices,” according to tips by NursingLicensure.org.

Recruiters should introduce foreign nurses to the wide array of services CGFNS provides, such as evaluating reports for regulatory authorities, employers and universities and helping to authenticate and verify academic and professional credentials and prepare for exams and certifications.

The Alliance for Ethical International Recruitment Practices, a division of CGFNS, has a code of ethical practices for international nurse recruitment that employing facilities, agencies and recruiters must follow.

Always remember foreign nurses not only need information, but also need to know their rights — and you can assist them with both.

Foreign nurses are looking for good jobs and you are looking for good nurses. The right moves on your part can be the best part of their moves, making hiring foreign nurses a win-win situation.

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Eileen Williamson, MSN, RN

Eileen Williamson, MSN, RN, is a former senior vice president and chief nurse executive who led nursing programs and initiatives. She continues to write and act as a consultant for Nurse.com. Before joining the company in 1998, Williamson was employed by North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System in New York, where she held a number of leadership positions in nursing and hospital administration, including chief nurse at two of the system’s member hospitals. She holds a BSN and an MSN in administration, and is a graduate fellow of the Johnson & Johnson University of Pennsylvania Wharton School Nurse Executives program. She also is a board member and past president of the New Jersey League for Nursing, a constituent league of the National League for Nursing.