The United States is facing a severe shortage of nurses that is only expected to intensify over the next decade. As the population ages and more Americans gain access to healthcare, there will be an increasing demand for qualified, compassionate nurses to provide high-quality care.
This presents a tremendous opportunity for foreign-educated nurses looking to relocate to the U.S. and establish meaningful, rewarding careers.This comprehensive guide explains all the steps foreign nurses need to take to successfully migrate to the U.S., find employment, and build lives as nursing professionals.
Obtaining U.S. Nursing Credentials
The first step is obtaining the proper credentials to work legally as a registered nurse (RN) in the U.S.Foreign-educated nurses must complete the following:
- Earn a nursing diploma or degree: Have a minimum of 18-24 months of nursing education and hold a diploma or degree from an accredited nursing program.
- Pass an English exam: Demonstrate English language proficiency by passing an approved exam like the TOEFL or IELTS.
- Get licensed in home country: Hold an unrestricted license to practice nursing in the country where you were educated.
- Earn CGFNS certificate: Complete a credential review with the Commission on Graduates of Foreign Nursing Schools (CGFNS) and obtain a VisaScreen certificate.
- Pass NCLEX exam: Register with a state board of nursing and pass the National Council Licensure Examination for RNs (NCLEX-RN).
Completing this rigorous credentialing process ensures foreign nurses meet the same high standards as U.S. educated nurses. It qualifies candidates to work legally and ethically within the American healthcare system.
Finding A U.S. Employer
The next step is identifying employment opportunities with U.S. healthcare providers. There are over 5,000 hospitals and many more clinics and private practices looking to hire foreign nurses.Top ways for foreign nurses to find U.S. job opportunities include:
- Nursing recruiters: Specialized staffing agencies can match foreign nurses with employers needing to fill vacancies.
- Online job boards: Major sites like Indeed, Glassdoor, and LinkedIn list thousands of open nursing roles across the country.
- Healthcare employers: Many hospitals and medical facilities recruit foreign nurses directly through their career pages and job listings.
When considering job offers, look for positions that provide strong compensation, benefits, scheduling flexibility, opportunities for career advancement and pathways to permanent U.S. residency.
Obtaining A U.S. Work Visa
Before starting employment stateside, foreign nurses need authorization to work legally in the country. The two main visa options are:
H-1B Temporary Work Visa
The H-1B is a popular temporary work visa that allows foreign professionals to work in the U.S. for up to 6 years.
- Work authorization for up to 3 years initially, renewable for another 3 years
- Dual intent visa allowing holders to apply for permanent residency
- Spouses and children receive H-4 dependent visas
- Employer must file petition and serve as visa sponsor
EB-3 Permanent Resident Visa
Also called the “Green Card” visa, the EB-3 leads to lawful permanent U.S. residency for skilled workers.
- Permanent right to live and work in the U.S.
- No need to renew visa status
- Spouses and children also receive green cards
- Longer application timeline – can take over a year
For most foreign nurses, the H-1B visa is the quickest path to entering the U.S. workforce. It offers the flexibility later to transition to permanent residency.
Relocating To The United States
Once all credentials, job offers and visas are secured, foreign nurses can relocate to the U.S. and focus on smoothly transitioning into their new American lives both professionally and personally.
Settling Into A New Community
Choosing where to settle down is an important decision. The best cities for nurses are affordable places with strong economic and job growth, along with vibrant, welcoming communities.
Top-rated destinations include:
- Dallas, TX – Low cost of living, high RN salaries, major hospital hub
- Atlanta, GA – Growing economy, mild winters, diverse population
- Portland, OR – Laid-back west coast living, natural scenic beauty
- Raleigh, NC – “Best Places To Live” winner, research triangle jobs
Preparing For Nursing Practice
To deliver effective, culturally competent care, foreign nurses should understand key realities of working within the American healthcare system:
- Medical terminology – Learn common terms and abbreviations used in U.S. clinical settings.
- Technology – Utilize documentation programs like Epic and messaging apps to coordinate care.
- Insurance – Get familiar with policies, reimbursement protocols and utilization review processes.
- Healthcare teams – Appreciate interdisciplinary nature of care teams with doctors, techs, social workers, etc.
Obtaining Necessary Licenses
Before starting work, foreign nurses must obtain an RN license for their specific state of employment by submitting the necessary application forms, fees, and endorsements. State boards of nursing also provide helpful resources for new RNs including orientation guidelines and best practices for delivering safe care.
Launching A Rewarding U.S. Nursing Career
By following this guide, foreign-educated nurses can attain all the credentials, visa approvals, community connections and clinical capabilities needed to successfully relocate to the U.S. This opens up life-changing opportunities to launch stable, meaningful careers that make a real difference in patients’ lives.
The American nursing profession faces major shortages in the coming years. As the country’s population ages and more individuals gain healthcare coverage, the demand for talented, big-hearted nurses will only keep rising.
Now is the perfect time for ambitious foreign nursing graduates to bring their skills stateside. With grit, passion and the help of this step-by-step guide, they can establish deeply fulfilling lifelong vocations delivering compassionate care while also earning good incomes and building communities in the U.S.
There has never been a better moment to embrace the calling of this essential, noble profession. America needs more talented nurses – and the nursing profession needs dedicated professionals ready to step up.
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