By Attorneys Robert L. Reeves and Devin M. Connolly

A common way to acquire lawful permanent resident status in the U.S. is through your employment.  This method has become especially common in recent years for health-care workers due to the severe shortages that currently exist in the U.S. health-care industry.  Nurses, Physical Therapists and other individuals trained in the health-care field have been able to capitalize on the lack of qualified workers already in the U.S. by more quickly obtaining lawful permanent resident status (“green card”). However, despite the large number of people attempting to obtain permanent resident status as health-care workers, it remains a complex area of U.S. immigration law.  It is a common misconception that merely possessing a Bachelor’s or Master’s Degree from a foreign institution will lead directly to a green card.  On the contrary, there are many procedural steps that must be closely followed to successfully immigrate to the U.S. as a health-care worker.

Health-care workers in certain occupations have been granted distinct advantages in their pursuit of lawful permanent resident status. One advantage is that certain professional nurses and physical therapists are not required to have their employer file a Labor Certification with the Department of Labor. There are several categories of health-care workers that are not required to have a labor certification filed for them, including certain professional nurses and physical therapists.  However, the health-care workers that qualify for this exemption are still required to have a certificate attesting to their professional qualifications.

The required certificate will only be issued if the intending immigrant has sufficient education and training, oral and written English competency, and can pass the occupation’s licensing or certification examination. Health-care occupations requiring this certification are enumerated in the Federal Regulations. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (“USCIS”) will also make an individualized determination based on the intending immigrant’s job duties to determine if the position falls into one of the listed health-care occupations.

The health-care worker’s employer must file the required petition with the USCIS.  The USCIS will review the petition in conjunction with the employer’s required financial documents and the applicable documents regarding the alien’s qualifications for the offered position. Health-care workers must also document that they are eligible for licensure in the state of intended employment. The failure to submit all required information with the initial filing can result in the USCIS issuing a “Request for Evidence” (“RFE”).  Following the approval of the employer’s petition, the intending immigrant may be granted lawful permanent resident status once his or her priority date becomes current.   Obtaining lawful permanent resident status in the U.S. is a viable and realistic option for many foreign health-care workers. However, they should remember that the process is complex, and that one small mistake may cause years of delay. For this reason, it is always advisable to retain the services of an experienced and knowledgeable attorney who is dedicated solely to the practice of immigration law.