HomeResourcesHow to Work as a Nurse in the U.S.
April 28th 2023

How to Work as a Nurse in the U.S.

The current nursing shortage in the United States has opened up opportunities for foreign nationals to immigrate as nurses, but the process takes time and planning. Here are the key steps to secure work as a nurse in the U.S.

The current national nursing shortage has opened up opportunities for foreign nationals to work as nurses in the U.S., but the process takes time and planning.

This article discusses the key steps to secure work as a nurse in the U.S.—from verifying foreign credentials and getting licensed by a state’s Board of Nursing to finding a nursing job and getting an appropriate work visa.

Step 1: Meet basic requirements

To work as a nurse in the U.S., foreign nationals must demonstrate that they have:

  • A degree from an accredited nursing education program in their home country  

  • A Registered Nurse (RN) license in their home country

  • Experience as a practicing Registered Nurse for at least two years.

If they graduated from a program where instruction was not done in English, foreign-education nurses will need to demonstrate their English language proficiency.

This can be done by taking the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL), Test of English for International Communication (TOEIC), or the International English Language Testing System (IELTS).

Step 2: Get your foreign credentials verified

Before sitting for a licensure exam, foreign nurses must get their foreign nursing credentials verified. This process varies by each State Board of Nursing, so make sure to review your state’s specific requirements

The Commission on Graduates of Foreign Nursing Schools (CGFNS) is a nonprofit organization approved by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to validate the credentials of international nurses and determine their eligibility to take the licensing exam. 

CGFNS has various credentialing services to fulfill different immigration and licensing requirements, but here are a few common services for foreign nurses:

  • CGFNS Certification Program is popular for first-level, general nurses educated outside of the U.S. This includes a CGFNS Qualifying Exam®, which is only required by some State Boards, but is also helpful to determine readiness for licensure exams.

  • VisaScreen® is also popular because it satisfies all credential verification and language requirements needed to get licensed and obtain a work visa.

Note: while CGFNS is a widely known and accepted nursing certification organization, there are other cheaper options to consider, such as the International Educational Research Foundation and the Educational Records Evaluation.

Make sure to contact the State Board of Nursing in the state you wish to work to determine which certifications they will accept.

Step 3: Pass a licensure exam

To get a nursing license in the state you wish to work, you must pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX). Through the NCLEX website, you can register for the exam (for a $200 fee), develop a test prep plan, and get your results.

See the NCLEX FAQs for more information on test content, logistics, and preparation

Note: some Boards of Nursing may have exceptions for foreign-educated nurses, such as accepting the Canadian Nurses Association Testing Service (CNATS) or the Canadian Registered Nurses Examination (CRNE) in place of the NCLEX.

Step 4: Find a nursing job

Once you’ve passed the NCLEX, you will need to find an employer to sponsor your work visa.

Staffing and recruiting agencies can help tremendously in your search to find organizations with vacancies for foreign nurses. The CGFNS’s approved recruiter list is a good place to start looking for reputable agencies.

The American Nursing Association’s Career Center has helpful tools to find open positions, improve your resume, and prepare for nursing interviews.

Step 5: Get a work visa

While there are many types of work visas in the U.S., there are few common work visas for foreign nurses.

Registered nurse green card:

A U.S. employer may be willing to sponsor your green card for a full-time permanent position. This is commonly done via the EB-3 Visa for “skilled or professional workers.”

This will involve the labor certification process, commonly referred to as PERM. However, employers are not required to post advertisements about open nursing positions (a typical PERM requirement), since nursing is classified by the USCIS as a "Schedule A" position that needs more workers due to a shortage. 


If you want to work in the U.S. as a nurse on a temporary basis, you may be eligible for an H1-B visa

To be eligible for an H1-B, a nurse’s employer needs to demonstrate that the nursing position is a “speciality occupation”, meaning a bachelor’s degree or equivalent is typically required for the position. Therefore, only nurses with bachelor’s degrees that are pursuing specialized roles, such as critical care nurses, clinical nurses or nurse practitioners, have strong cases for H1-B visas. 

Make sure to check with your employer about the requirements for the registered nurse position in the state where you hope to work. Many states do not require a bachelor’s degree for an RN position and therefore, there is not a strong case for an H1-B in those states. 

TN Visa:

Citizens from Canada and Mexico may be eligible to apply for a TN Visa to work as a nurse in the United States. This visa allows citizens of these two countries to work in the U.S. for up to three years, with the possibility of renewing indefinitely if requirements are still met.

The takeaway

Working as a nurse can be a fulfilling path to the U.S. if you know how to navigate the licensing and immigration process. 

After you have passed your licensing exam, found a job, and secured your visa, you’re well on your way to starting your life in the U.S. Once you move, Nova Credit lets you use your foreign credit history from certain countries to apply for several essential products and services from our partners. 

This means that you can apply for great credit cards, phone plans, and more from using your hard-earned cr

edit history from back home—rather than needing to start from scratch. If you are approved for these products and manage them responsibly, you will start to quickly build a U.S. credit history.

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Currently, Nova Credit serves individuals coming from Australia, Brazil, Canada, Dominican Republic, India, Kenya, Mexico, Nigeria, Philippines, South Korea, Spain, Switzerland, and the U.K.

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More from Nova Credit:

The ultimate guide to the F-1 visa

The ultimate guide to the H-1B visa

The ultimate guide to the J-1 visa 

The ultimate guide to the L-1 visa

The ultimate guide to the O-1 visa

How to check your USCIS case status

How to read the Visa Bulletin

How to build credit after moving to the US

How to get a social security card

How to get an apartment with no credit history

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