Filipino Nurses in the US: A Brief History

According to the Philippine Overseas Employment Agency, 92,277 nurses left the Philippines in search of opportunities abroad from 2012 to 2017. And it seems the US is a top destination with 2,890 Filipino nurses taking the NCLEX-RN exam from January to March this year, which is up 46 percent compared to the same period in 2018. 

While Filipinos make up just 1 percent of the US population, they account for over 4 percent of nurses practicing in the US, making them the largest group of internationally educated nurses in the country. 

US salaries are a huge driver for nurses from the Philippines, with an average RN earning more in a day than they’d make in a month back home, but what other factors made the US a top destination for Filipino nurses? 

The Beginning 

After the Spanish-American War in 1898, Filipinos became US nationals, with the US Army training and recruiting them as volunteer auxiliary and contract nurses. Many served in the Philippines to focus on tropical diseases, while some were sent to the US as government-funded scholars, otherwise known as pensionados.

Returning pensionados helped to set up and manage the 17 nursing schools that were established in the Philippines from 1903 until 1940. It was this influence that inspired those who completed their education to embark on a career in the US. And, as US nationals, Filipino nurses would travel to the country with little restrictions using their US passports. 

Pensionado Act of 1903

The Pensionado Act was established and legislated in 1903 to formalize the framework to send pensionados to the US for further education and training. Some of these nurses remained there for employment, and, in 1928, Filipino nurses working in New York established the Philippine Nurses Association. The Association was set-up to promote cultural understanding and streamline professional guidance for nurses. 

Exchange Visitor Program of 1948

To “combat Soviet propaganda”, the U.S. State Department set up an Exchange Visitor Program, which Filipino nurses took advantage of. In fact, Filipinos accounted for a large percentage of exchange visitors, with many working as nurses or nursing students. 

Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965

The Immigration and Nationality Act allowed for a new wave of Filipinos. The “occupational immigration” clause in the act was in response to the need for more professionals, specifically in the medical field. It saw thousands of Filipino nurses arrive in the US as complete families, with their spouses and children. 

Unfortunately, lax regulation of nursing education in the Philippines saw only 15-20 percent of the nurses who immigrated to the US after 1965 passing the state nursing board exams. As a result, in 1977, the Commission on Graduates of Foreign Nursing Schools (CGFNS) was established to prevent the exploitation of foreign nursing graduates. 

Today’s Immigration Process

There are two main parts of immigration for nurses:

  • Credentialing. Ensuring you have the proper qualifications and certifications to begin a career in the USA. This includes taking the NCLEX-RN exam, and an English speaking proficiency test (if applicable).  
  • Immigration Visa Process. This is dependent on the US Government. Immigration includes the application for the visa, security checks, and ensuring you meet the appropriate qualification thresholds. 

There’s never been a better time for Filipino nurses looking to head to the US. The October 2019 Visa Bulletin reveals that the priority date for the Philippines has advanced forward considerably. 




1st 22APR18
2nd C
3rd 15OCT17
Other Workers 15OCT17
4th C
Certain Religious Workers U
5th Non-Regional Center (C5 and T5) C
5th Regional Center (I5 and R5) U                                

Working with Conexus 

As a leading nurse staffing agency for the US, Conexus sponsors registered nurses from the Philippines on the EB-3 visa, which grants permanent US residency. Our team of experts work closely with each of our nurses to guide them through the entire process, ensuring their dream of working in the US becomes a reality. 

Meet the Conexus Team!

We’re excited to announce we will be in Manila this October for the 10th Philippine Nursing Opportunities Conference Oct 19-20. Our team will be on-hand to answer any queries you may have about life as a nurse in the US, visa requirements, training, and ongoing support in your next career move. Find out more about the event and sign up today. 


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