Nurses who received their training outside the US can still be licensed to practice in this country. The process starts with getting your credentials certified by the Commission on Graduates of Foreign Nursing Schools (CGFNS). Its purpose is to evaluate the credentials that foreign nurses present to be able to work as a nurse in the United States. These nurses will have to pass exams administered by the CGFNS to demonstrate that they have the required level of knowledge and skills.
The US government approves the exams and certification of foreign nurses by the CGFNS. As of 2012, forty-two of the fifty states require that foreign educated nurses have the CGFNS certification in order to receive a license. Even the other eight use the procedures of CGFNS for licensure.
Review of credentials
The CGFNS looks at the credentials to ensure that the nurse has graduated from high school and a nursing program that is accredited by the government in their home country. The nursing program must be at least two years in duration, and the applicant has to hold a license to practice as a nurse at their home country.
Once the qualifications are acceptable, then the applicant can take the CGFNS exam. This exam takes one day to complete and held four times a year in over forty countries. There are 260 questions on the exam and by receiving a passing grade; a nurse will demonstrate the ability to work in the United States.
English Language Proficiency Examination
In order to work as a registered nurse in the United States; foreign students must be able to speak, write, listen and read the English language at a university level. The TOFEL was once the test of choice for English Language Proficiency, but the Test of English for International Communication and the International English Language Testing System are also accepted. The applicant is required to take this test within two years of taking the CGFNS exam, either before or after. The TOFEL exam is available online. For the other exams, the information about test sites, fees and requirements are available on the CGFNS website.
Receipt of Certification
After passing both the CGFNS exam and one of the English Language Proficiency exams; applicants receive their certification.
The next step that all foreign educated nurses must take to work in the United States is to pass the NCLEX exam. This is the same exam that nursing graduates in the United States have to pass in order to obtain their nursing license. There are sites where students can take this exam in the U.S. and U.S. territories, as well as many other countries: United Kingdom, Taiwan, Philippines, Mexico, Japan, India, Hong Kong, Canada, and Australia. Depending on their training, nurses must pass the NCLEX-RN to be licensed as a registered nurse or the NCLEX-PN to be licensed as a licensed practical nurse.
Become Licensed by the State Board
The final procedure in obtaining a license to work as a nurse in the United States is to be licensed by the state in which you want to practice. There are different requirements for this license in some of the states, which is why you must always check with the State Nursing Board or the National Council of State Boards of Nursing to find out if you meet the requirements. There are twenty-four states that have a reciprocity agreement in place for nurses; if you are licensed in one of these states, you are allowed to work in any of them.
Even if you are licensed to work as a nurse in any state within the United States; you will not be able to get a job without a United States work visa. The US Citizenship and Immigration Services is the agency within the federal government that issue work visa. Applicants can deal with this agency or get assistance from the CGFNS with the process. There are also organizations based in the United States that help foreign nurses obtain positions in the United States. One example is the Chicago Bilingual Nurse Consortium, working with nurses from Latin America.