More than caregivers

Menchu Sanchez, a Filipino nurse from Secaucus, New Jersey, was recognized by United States President Barack Obama as a hero for rescuing 20 premature babies during Superstorm “Sandy” in 2012.

The recognition made us proud of all hardworking Filipino nurses. Ironically, a few weeks later, senatorial candidate Cynthia Villar made hurtful remarks about Filipino nurses. In a television appearance, she said in response to a question, “Kasi itong mga nurses, gusto lang nilang maging room nurse,” (Nurses just want to be room nurse).


Villar said she was not given the opportunity to explain her statement but we all found it derogatory.  To be a room nurse in the US would require a bachelor’s degree, especially if the position was for an emergency or operating room nurse.

A nurse must also have a bachelor’s degree and be offered a position higher than that of a staff nurse, like clinical nurse and nurse practitioner, to qualify for a professional working visa under the H1B category.


Degree not needed?

The statement that nurses do not need a bachelor’s degree applies to registered nurses (RN) educated in the US. To be an RN, almost all states only require an associate degree. This is why registered staff nurse is not a professional position in the H1B worker visa category.

Getting an H1B visa requires at least a bachelor’s degree. If the job is simply as staff nurse, the foreign educated RN will not qualify. An RN will qualify for an H1B visa if he is taking a more complex position such as operating room or clinical nurse or nurse practitioner.

While RNs are not generally qualified for the H1B professional working visas, foreign educated nurses are eligible for a straight green card. If a US employer offers a permanent full-time job to a foreign graduate, a petition is filed under the third preference category.

The nurse may migrate directly with a green card status. However, there is considerable backlog in green card issuance under this category.

RN applications for immigrant visas in the US are processed differently from other professionals.  Since nursing is considered a shortage occupation, petitioning employers do not have to undergo the labor certification process, which determines availability of US citizens or residents for the position.

Until now nurses fall under the Schedule A category, which means they are pre-certified and may file directly for immigrant visas.


A verification process is done before an RN is petitioned. The Commission on Graduates of Foreign Nursing Schools (CGFNS) administers a qualifying test to verify credentials and ensure  minimum educational requirement for RN licensure is met.

RNs are also required to take the English proficiency test and to pass the US national nursing licensure examination, NCLEX.


Other care providers

Villar may have confused RNs with care providers who do not need degrees.

There are health care providers  who can be petitioned by US employers even without bachelor’s degrees. These are licensed vocational nurses, licensed practical nurses, certified nursing aides or “caregivers.”

But it takes longer, 7-8 years, to process their immigrant visas because their jobs are not “precertified” as shortage occupation.

In the coming decade, more than 78 million baby boomers are going to retire and there is an expected shortage of health care workers. Baby boomers will soon need health care.

Assuming that US immigration law relating to foreign educated nurses remains unchanged, there will be more nurse positions to be filled.

To prepare for the future, those who are interested to enter the profession should strive to complete their education and emulate role models such as our very own Menchu Sanchez. She is a taga-pag-alaga but her nursing skills earned her honor when her nurturing character was revealed through her heroic deeds during a time of crisis.

Indeed, she is a taga-pag-alaga with heart and pride.

No one can take that away from hard-working and dedicated Filipino nurses who work everywhere in the world.

Tancinco may be reached at [email protected] or at 1-888-9300808 (US) or at 8877177 or 7211963 (Manila).

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TAGS: Caregivers, Cynthia Villar, Filipino nurses, Menchu Sanchez, nurse
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