Work visas restored to specialized Canadian nurses working in U.S.

Canadian nurses recently blocked from their jobs at U.S. hospitals once again have access to work visas, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection confirm nurses qualify for TN work visas

Nurse Patti Kunkel of LaSalle, Ont., had been worried border issues could have prevented her from working at Detroit's Henry Ford Hospital. (Meg Roberts/CBC)

After a week of confusion, U.S. border officials are once again granting professional work visas to specialized Canadian nurses working at American hospitals. 

Nurses and hospitals have been in a frenzy in the past week as visa applications for advanced practice nurses and advanced clinical nurse practitioners working in Detroit hospitals were denied.

Canadian citizens holding these positions in the U.S. have been approved for non-immigrant professional (TN) visas under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) for years.

But that recently changed when nurses applying for renewals and new visas were being denied, according to officials at Henry Ford Hospital. At least one Henry Ford nurse was turned away at the border last week. 

A U.S. Customs spokesperson, on Friday, said the agency needed to get clarification on whether the specialized Canadian nurses qualified for TN visas.

"These nurses fall under the registered nurse (category) of the TN visa status," said Kristoffer Grogan, public affairs officer with U.S. Customs.

That clarification came Friday after members of the American Immigration Lawyers Association contacted customs to find out why the nurse applications were being rejected, even though they had been approved for years.

"They said the issue is being sorted out and nurses who are otherwise eligible will be able to enter the United States," said Melanie Goldberg, vice-chairperson of the association's Michigan chapter. 

Immigration lawyer Drew Porter said he believes the issue stems from someone suddenly having a different interpretation of nurses as defined under NAFTA.

U.S. immigration lawyer Drew Porter says U.S. Customs and Border Protection suddenly had a different way of interpreting the definition of nurses as spelled out in the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). (Meg Roberts/CBC)

"This issue has been resolved and the nurses can return to the port of entry on Monday," said Porter, a U.S. lawyer based in Windsor, Ont. who is also a member of the American Immigration Lawyers Association.

Staff at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit said they have heard from several nurses who had been denied the TN work visas, despite having them for years.

Patti Kunkel was one of many nurses worried when people started having their visa applications denied. The advanced clinical nurse practitioner, who lives in LaSalle — a small community near Windsor — and works at Henry Ford was worried the changes would affect all nurses.

"I was asked about my visa and when the expiry of my visa was, which concerns me because I'm always worried I could get pulled in (to secondary inspection)," she said Thursday, describing her experience crossing the border.


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