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After a newly hired specialized nurse from Canada was denied entry into the U.S. last week, the Henry Ford Health System expressed concern Thursday that other high skilled nurses could also be denied entry due to visa changes.

However, U.S. Customs and Border Protection said Thursday there have not been any policy changes that would affect the non-immigrant NAFTA Professional visa, also known as TN visa.

During a press conference Thursday, Henry Ford officials said that a newly hired nurse practitioner from Canada applied for a work visa on March 10 and was denied.

“The reason given is that U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers’ believe that advanced practice nurses should no longer be approved for TN work visa status based on their new interpretation of immigration policy by the CBP,” said Kathy Macki, vice president of human resources for Henry Ford Health System. “This was a huge surprise to us not only to us, but to our staff that was affected by this.”

Under the North American Free Trade Agreement, a TN visa allows Canada and Mexico citizens to work in the U.S. in prearranged business activities for U.S. or foreign employers.

The Henry Ford Health System has 30 advanced practice providers in positions where there have historically been significant shortages, Macki said.

“We are asking for the CBP to revisit the new interpretation that is causing confusion and frustration for our Canadian employees so that we can continue to cross the border smoothly and seamlessly as they have for years,” Macki said.

Amid the health system’s concerns., officials with the CBP said that have been no changes that would impact TN status. Officials did not address the March 10 incident, but they provided a statement explaining possible reasons for a denial of entry.

“One of the most common issues CBP sees is improper paperwork presented by the traveler in relation to the position classification they are applying under,” CBP officials wrote in a statement Thursday. “Another common issues is the lack of proper documents needed to grant a TN non-immigrant classification. Each application for TN status is evaluated by the inspecting officer, and the decision is made on the totality of the evidence provided. Every application for TN status is a separate inspection, and the decision to approve or deny is based on the merits of that individual case.”

U.S. Customs and Border Protection said it is working with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services “for greater clarity in regards to specialized categories that fall under the registered nurse classification.”

Marc Topoleski, an immigration attorney representing Henry Ford Health System, said he’s learned of similar incidents involving nurse practitioners being denied TN visas.

“We are hearing on a national level, there are attorneys in other border states like Washington specifically,” he said. “I’ve talked to an attorney who is also having a nurse practitioner who was denied last week as well. So this does seem to be something going on at a national level, but we have yet to hear what the rationale is for this.”

Topoleski said later Thursday via email that the CBP’s statement is counter to what Canadian nurse TN visa applicants are experiencing in the field.

“Also, the fact that CBP suggests it is working with USCIS for ‘greater clarity in regards to specialized categories that fall under the registered nurse classification’ is quite disingenuous, since it suggests that future changes may be coming, when in fact, they are already actually occurring in practice (in terms of application denials) on the front lines at the border,” he wrote.

The issue has caused concern for Patti Kunkel, a Canadian resident who works as an acute care nurse practitioner for Henry Ford Hospital. As of yet she said she hasn’t had any issue entering the U.S. to work.

“My very big concern with this is that I may get turned away at the border tomorrow and not be able to do my job which I do love,” she said. “That will also put a lot of stress on my current team that I work with because we are already in a critical shortage in the care of our patients.”

cwilliams@detroitnews.com

(313) 222-2311

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