USCIS Ombudsman Recommends Expediting Nurse Applications

On December 5, 2008, the USCIS Ombudsman, provided a written report to the Director of USCIS recommending that USCIS should make efforts to process Schedule A nurse green card applications as expeditiously as possible.

Calling America’s current nursing shortage an “extreme emergent situation” and “humanitarian situation,” the Ombudsman recommended two actions: (1) prioritizing Schedule A green card nurse applications by automatically expediting the adjudication process; and (2) centralizing Schedule A green card nurse applications at one designated USCIS service center to facilitate more efficient and consistent processing.

While these are commendable recommendations, they do not resolve the principle problem facing green card nurse applicants – the limited number of immigrant visa numbers available, which is the true stumbling block for these applications. In order to complete the green card application process, an individual must obtain an immigrant visa number. Schedule A green card nurse applications fall under the general employment-based third preference (EB-3) category for skilled workers and professionals. Immigrant visa numbers under the EB-3 category are only available for individuals who filed green card applications between 2001 and 2005. Because of this back log, the processing time for green card applications for nurses can last many years. Nurses generally must remain outside the U.S. until their application is approved, unless they can qualify for one of the limited number of non-immigrant visa options available.

The ideal solution to America’s current nursing shortage would require legislation providing for additional immigrant visa numbers allotted solely for Schedule A green card applications. This would avoid the back logs afflicting the EB-3 category and truly expedite the green card application process for nurses. A 2005 law provided 50,000 visa numbers for this purpose, but once these numbers were exhausted, the program was terminated. Congress may again provide for additional visa numbers for nurses: H.R. 5924, entitled the “Emergency Nursing Supply Relief,” is current under review by the House’s immigration subcommittee.