Proposed Visa Screen Blanket Denial is Unfair

A few weeks ago, the Commission on Foreign Nurse Graduates (CGFNS) announced that it was considering a blanket denial of all Visa Screen applications filed by the June 2006 Philippine nursing board passers.

Nurses seeking admission to the US, whether as temporary or as immigrant workers are required by immigration law to undergo the Visa Screen certification. The Visa Screen certification process determines whether the foreign health worker has the requisite English language proficiency as well as the knowledge and skill for the job.

The June 2006 Philippine nursing exam scandal became a serious national concern with good reason. The Philippines had been positioning itself over recent years as a potential N-CLEX testing site, but was always bypassed by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN) on the ground that the Philippines cannot secure the integrity of the exams. As a result, thousands of Filipino nurses would still have to travel abroad to take the N-CLEX”an absurd situation considering nearly half of the NCLEX test-takers are Filipinos.

Last year’s fiasco gave NCSBN another reason to bypass the Philippines as a testing site. This means Filipino nurses would still incur substantial travel expenses to be able to take the NCLEX exam abroad. Apparently, the fall-out from the scandal continues to trouble Batch 2006.

Some groups say they know where the CGFNS is coming from on this issue. Sure enough, as the sentinel of the gates through which foreign RNs enter, CGFNS can be expected to be wary of Batch 2006. After all, CGFNS would not be doing its job if it lets a board exam cheat enter the US to care for the sick. It cannot be faulted for doing its job.

On the other hand, a blanket denial would be patently unfair to those who were not involved in the board exam leakage. There is a big difference between doing the job and doing it well. Just as it is the job of the CGFNS to weed out unqualified foreign RNs, it is also its job to facilitate the entry of competent and highly qualified RNs who are very badly needed by the understaffed US healthcare system.

In the first place, only less than ten percent of the Nursing Board passers were determined by the Philippine Court of Appeals to have been involved in the exam leakage. Out of the 45,000 who took the nursing board exam, 17,000 passed and out of this number, 1,687″most of whom were from Baguio City and Manila, were ordered by the Court of Appeals to re-take the nursing board exam.

There is no reason to question this latest attempt to put a closure to this nursing exam scandal. The finding that less than 10 percent of the board exam passers were involved in the leak was made by the Philippine Court of Appeals no less. Why punish the greater majority of the passers who were not involved in the exam scandal?

Should the CGFNS decide to issue a blanket denial of all Visa Screen applications, it will be doing more harm than good because in disqualifying the few who were involved in the nursing exam scandal, it will also be excluding the many who could provide top quality nursing care for the sick, the injured and the disabled.

Secondly, the Visa Screen Certification process is strict and comprehensive. It does not rely only on the foreign RN license. It covers a battery of tests in English language proficiency as well as nursing knowledge and skills. It also involves a thorough evaluation of the foreign nurses’ transcript of records, work experience, and other credentials besides the Philippine nursing license itself.

Finally, it must be pointed out that the Visa Screen certification is just one of the duplicative certification processes that foreign nurses undergo before they can work in the US. Foreign nurses still have to take the N-CLEX to obtain their RN license in the US. They also take the CGFNS pre-screening exam to get the CGFNS certificate that is required to be submitted with the immigrant worker petition of their sponsoring medical facility.

The CGFNS should study the blanket denial proposal very carefully. Ultimately, it will be a decision that will affect not just the future of more than 15,000 promising young nurses, but the well-being of the US healthcare system that badly needs the services of foreign nurses.