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< Back to current issue of Immigration Daily < Back to current issue of Immigrant's Weekly

VisaScreen™: Visa Credentials Assessment

by Judith Pendergast

On July 25, 2003, the Department of Homeland Security published its final rule related to Section 343 of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996. Section 343 requires that certain foreign health care workers have their credentials evaluated and certified before they will be allowed to work in their profession in the United States. The following are frequently asked questions that the Commission on Graduates of Foreign Nursing Schools (CGFNS) receives.

Who is CGFNS?
The CGFNS is a non-profit, internationally recognized leader in the education, registration and licensure of healthcare professionals worldwide. CGFNS protects the public in relation to evolving healthcare policies and standards of professional practice for migrating healthcare professionals.

Who is ICHP?
The International Commission on Healthcare Professions is a division of CGFNS. CGFNS launched ICHP in 1996 to administer its VisaScreen™ program, which is a federally-approved screening program for foreign healthcare workers seeking an occupational visa in the United States.

What is VisaScreen and why do I need it?
U.S. Immigration law now requires that healthcare professionals, other than physicians, complete a screening program in order to qualify for certain occupational visas. VisaScreen™, a program offered by The International Commission on Healthcare Professions (ICHP), a division of CGFNS, enables healthcare professionals to meet this requirement by verifying and evaluating their credentials to ensure that they meet the government’s minimum eligibility standards. CGFNS is named in the new law as a qualified provider of such a screening program.

What does VisaScreen look at?
VisaScreen™ does an educational review, licensure review, English language skills assessment and predictive examination for nurses. Applicants who successfully complete VisaScreen™ will receive a VisaScreen Certificate, which can be presented to a consular office or, in the case of adjustment of status, the Attorney General as part of a visa application.

If I am a registered nurse, do I need to complete the CGFNS Qualifying Exam and the NCLEX-RN® examination in order to complete my VisaScreen™ application?
No. You only need to successfully complete either one of the exams.

What are the VisaScreen™ requirements?

  1. Complete the VisaScreen™ application.
  2. Complete the enclosed forms to send to your nursing school(s). Academic transcripts must come directly from the nursing school(s).
  3. Complete the enclosed forms to send to your licensing authority(ies). Validations of all licenses, past and present, must come directly from the licensing authorities. You must successfully complete an English language proficiency test and have the scores directly forwarded to ICHP from the testing agency.
  4. You must successfully pass either the CGFNS Qualifying Exam or the NCLEX-RN® examination if you are a nurse.
  5. Enclose a copy of your high school diploma or equivalent.
  6. Enclose the application fee.
Who is exempt from fulfilling the English language proficiency requirement?
Applicants may be exempt from the English language proficiency requirement if they meet all of the following criteria:

  • Country of professional education was Australia, Canada (except Quebec), Ireland, New Zealand, United Kingdom or the United States;
  • Language of instruction was English; and
  • Language of textbooks was English.
Who pays for the program?
The applicant typically pays for the VisaScreen™ program. The application fee can be paid by an international money order or certified bank check in U.S. dollars, drawn on a U.S. bank and made payable to "ICHP," or by one of the following credit cards: Visa, Mastercard or Discover/Novus.

Must I submit my original documents for review?
Yes and no. ICHP accepts clear and legible photocopies of secondary school documents for evaluation. However, ICHP will only accept original verification from issuing agencies. All validation of registration/licenses and the applicant’s professional school’s transcripts must come directly from the issuing authority to ICHP. In addition, since ICHP verifies credential authenticity, ICHP maintains the right to validate any documentation with the source agency.

What do I do if my educational institution has closed?
ICHP only accepts certain documentation from source agencies (such as transcripts and validations of registration/ licensure). If your school has closed or no longer operates, you will need to contact the organization or agency authorized to hold documentation for that institution (such as a ministry of health or the national, provincial or state licensing authority in your country of education). If you are uncertain about where to go, call the ICHP Customer Service Department.

Do I need to have validations for all licenses I have ever held to complete my VisaScreen application?
Yes. CGFNS requries all VisaScreen™ applicants to provide validations of ALL licenses they have held, past and present. The validations must be sent directly to CGFNS from the issuing authority(ies).

Can I provide a photocopy of my license instead of a validation?
No. CGFNS requires that official validations of licenses must be completed and sent directly from the issuing authorities.

What do I do if the agency that issued my license is no longer in existence?
CGFNS only accepts validations of licensure from the source agency. If that agency has closed or no longer operates, you will need to contact the organization or agency authorized to hold documentation for that institution (such as a Ministry of Health or the national, provincial or state licensing authority in your country). If you are uncertain about where to go, contact the CGFNS Customer Service Department for assistance.

What if my documents are not in English?
A certified word-for-word English translation, signed with a certification of authenticity by the translator, must accompany any credentials not in English. If you cannot furnish a translation of your documents, ICHP can provide an official translation of each document for an additional fee. ICHP will accept translations of documents submitted by source agencies (such as transcripts and validations) only from the issuing authorities. Otherwise, ICHP will translate documents for the appropriate fee.

How does ICHP ensure its evaluations?
To ensure quality evaluations, ICHP consistently uses standards developed by the specific profession as the foundation for the assessment of an applicant’s qualification.

What is the difference between a CGFNS Certificate and the ICHP VisaScreen™ Certificate?
The VisaScreen™ Certificate is a result of successful completion of the ICHP VisaScreen™ program, which meets all federal requirements of a screening program for healthcare professionals seeking certain occupational visas in the United States. The CGFNS Certificate is a result of successful completion of the CGFNS Certification Program, which is a program consisting of an educational and registration/licensure review, a qualifying examination of nursing knowledge, as well as an English language proficiency assessment, designed specifically for first-level, general (registered) nurses seeking licensure in the United States.

Once a VisaScreen™ Certificate is issued, who receives the original document?
The VisaScreen™ Certificate is issued directly to the applicant who successfully completed all of the requirements of the program. The applicant then presents it to a consular office or attorney general (when applicable) as part of a visa application.

I am from a foreign country, but graduated from a college in the United States. Do I still need to apply for the VisaScreen™ program?
Yes. Although your professional education was completed in the United States, the purpose of the VisaScreen™ program is to provide a screening program which meets all federal requirements for international healthcare professionals seeking an occupational visa in the United States, irrespective of where the professional education was completed.

What are the passing scores for the English language proficiency examinations?

Option #1

Option #2
Option #3
Option #4
Healthcare Profession TOEFL
Test of English as a Foreign Language
TWE
Test of Written English
TSE
Test of Spoken English
TOEIC
Test of English for International Communication
TWE
Test of Written English
TSE
Test of Spoken English
IELTS
International English Language Testing Service
IELTS
Spoken Band
MELAB
Michigan English Language Assessment Battery
MELAB
Oral Component

Registered Nurse (RN)

540 (207)*

4.0

50

725

4.0

50

6.5 (Academic)

7.0

79

3+

Practical/Vocational Nurse

(LPN/LVN)

530 (197)

4.0

50

700

4.0

50

6.0

(General Training)

7.0

77

3+

Physical Therapist

560 (220)

4.5

50

Occupational Therapist

560 (220)

4.5

50

Speech Language Pathologist and Audiologist

540 (207)

4.0

50

725

4.0

50

6.5 (Academic)

7.0

79

3+

Clinical Laboratory Scientist

(Medical Technologist)

540 (207)

4.0

50

725

4.0

50

6.5 (Academic)

7.0

79

3+

Clinical Laboratory Technician

(Medical Technician)

530 (197)

4.0

50

700

4.0

50

6.0

(General Training)

7.0

77

3+

Physician Assistant

540 (207)

4.0

50

725

4.0

50

6.5 (Academic)

7.0

79

3+

What healthcare professions does ICHP certify?
Under the current US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) regulations, ICHP can certify registered nurses, licensed practical nurses, occupational therapists, physical therapists, speech language pathologists and audiologists, medical technologists, medical technicians and physicians’ assistants.

I am a foreign-educated healthcare worker (not in one of the professions mentioned) who is subject to the provisions of Section 343. I have all the necessary paperwork to immigrate to the United States. Why can’t CGFNS issue me the necessary certification?
INS has chosen to limit the number of occupations for which certificates can be issued. INS anticipates that additional occupations, and perhaps additional organizations, would be added when a final rule is promulgated. CGFNS has consistently expressed its disagreement with this approach to USCIS, noting that it has statutory authority to certify all healthcare professions other than physicians. USCIS continues to disagree.

Do I need a VisaScreen Certificate if I am a Canadian entering the United States on a "TN" visa?
Yes. Certificates are required for healthcare workers entering the United States on permanent and temporary, including the "TN" Visa categories.

I am a foreign-educated healthcare professional who is seeking to obtain my permanent residence status based on my relationship (e.g., spouse or minor) to a U.S. citizen. Do I need to obtain a VisaScreen Certificate?
No. Foreign-educated healthcare professionals who seek permanent residence status based on their relationship to an American citizen are not subject to Section 343 and do not need to obtain a VisaScreen™ Certificate.

I am a foreign-educated healthcare professional in a non-clinical occupation (such as medical teachers or researchers, administrators of healthcare facilities, medical consultants, etc.). Do I need to obtain certification under Section 343?
No. Healthcare professionals coming to the United States to perform services in non-clinical healthcare occupations that do not provide patient care are not required to obtain certification under Section 343. However, healthcare professionals who are indirectly involved in the performance of patient care (such as supervisory nurses, etc.) must obtain certification under Section 343, such as the VisaScreen™ Certificate.

I am a nurse who holds a CGFNS Certificate. Do I still need to apply for the VisaScreen™ Certificate?
Yes. The VisaScreen™ Certificate is required for all healthcare professionals (except physicians) who are seeking an immigrant visa or a change in status to permanent residency. One of the requirements of the VisaScreen program is that nurses must have passed either the CGFNS Qualifying Exam or the NCLEX-RN®® examination. Since you already have the CGFNS Certificate, you will not have to take another nursing exam to obtain your visa, and your transcripts on file may be used for the educational evaluation element of the VisaScreen™ program.


About The Author

Judith Pendergast is currently the Director of Planning, Marketing and Communications for the Commission on Graduates of Foreign Nursing Schools (CGFNS). Prior to holding this position, Ms. Pendergast served as the Director of Government Affairs for the Michigan Nurses Association and as the Executive Administrator for the Wisconsin Nurses Association. In addition, Ms. Pendergast has twenty years of clinical nursing experience in emergency services. Ms. Pendergast holds a diploma in nursing from Mercy Medical Center School of Nursing in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, a baccalaureate degree from Marian College in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, and a juris doctor degree from Marquette University School of Law in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.


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