What International Degree Holders Need to Know About Becoming an Illinois Nurse


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If you’re a nurse or medical professional who has earned a diploma from an educational institution or school outside the United States, acquiring the proper licensing in the US can be a challenging process. The process varies from state to state and not all degrees are equivalent with US classifications. For instance, in Illinois, there are a litany of requirements and a number of third party vendors that applicants must work through to acquire their license. 

In Illinois, a government agency called The Department of Financial and Professional Regulation oversees the licensing procedures for international degree holders. The Division of Professional Regulation, a subsection of the agency, oversees the licensing process for nurses and medical professionals. The Department has a list of requirements that must be completed before the applicant can be awarded a license.

 What do International Nursing Applicants Need to Become a Licensed Illinois Nurse? 

Before applicants can become licensees, they must submit their credentials to the State. In addition to a standard application form, applicants must include the following:

  1. Proof of Licensure from the Country you Received your Nursing Education

All nursing applicants must have graduated from a nursing education program. Generally, these programs must be accredited in the country in which you received the license.

  1. Proof of Education Equivalency by a Credential Evaluation Service

After completing a nursing program in your country, applicants will be required to have their education confirmed by a credentialing service or a CES. The CES will issue a report that evaluates an applicant’s education credentials. To successfully pass the CES report, the applicant must have completed nursing education that is equivalent to an education attained in a US state or territory—this is determined by the Department. Equivalency is usually based upon receipt and review of documents such as  official transcripts from the nursing education program. Typically, these documents must bear the school seal. 

The Department only recognizes certain vendors for their credentialling requirements, and the report must be obtained through one of the following credentialing service vendors for it to be valid.

There are several options that applicants must choose to properly acquire a CES equivalency report. For instance, obtaining an original GFNS Certificate or “VisaScreen” certificate from the Commission on Graduates of Foreign Nursing Schools would suffice. Similarly, Josef Silny & Associates (JS&A) provides a “Visa4Nurses” Certificate that is accepted by the Department. One area that complicates the CES process is when the nursing program is conducted in a language other than English. 

  1. TOEFL or IELTS scores. 

If the nursing program is taught in a language other than English, the applicant will have to submit an English proficiency test along with the CES report. The Test of English as a Foreign Language, or TOEFL, is designed on to measure an applicants ability to speak, listen, read and write English. The test is broken up into four sections that focus on each of these skills, requiring applicants to read passages, listen to lectures, and to write out passages based on tasks. Similarly, applicants can take a language test administered through the International English Language Testing System, or IELTS. The program mandated by the state is the “Academic Module.” The test is also broken up into 4 sections that test reading, writing and listening skills. 

Both the CES Report and English Language tests apply to internationally educated nurses including U.S. citizens and visa holders. 

What’s a passing score?

The Illinois Administrative Code mandates certain passing scores for each test. Both tests are administered in different formats such as paper, computer and via the internet. 

  • For the TOEFL the minimum passing score on the paper-based test is 560, computer-based test is 220, and internet-based test is 83.  
  • For the IELTS Academic Module, the minimum passing score shall be 6.5 (overall score) and 7.0 (spoken band)

For nursing students who were taught in English, The Division may, upon recommendation from one of the approved credentials evaluation services, waive the requirement that the applicant pass the TOEFL or IELTS examination. This can only be done if the applicant submits verification of the successful completion of a nursing education program conducted in English. Specifically, it may be waived if the CES report indicates that the nursing education program was conducted in English utilizing English Textbooks.

  1. The NCLEX

In order to be a licensed nurse in Illinois, all applicants must take and pass the National Council Licensure Examination, or NCLEX. The NCLEX is a nationwide examination for the licensing of nurses in the United States. The exam is comprised primarily of four-option, multiple choice questions. Success on the NCLEX is an important step and it can be a challenging hurdle to attain a nursing license. In 2023, first-time, internationally educated test-takers had an overall pass rate of 52.49%. Repeat takers had a 29.17% pass rate. Candidates should take test prep seriously, as Illinois imposes time limits on the period in which a candidate must pass the test after graduation. 

  1. Fingerprinting and Background Checks 

Applicants that are pursuing a nursing license must consent to a background check and submit fingerprints. The fingerprinting must be done through a vendor licensed and approved by the IDFPR. The fingerprinting must be taken within 60 days of submitting a nursing application. 

  1. Social Security Affidavit

For applicants who come from countries other than the U.S., they must sign an affidavit stating that they cannot obtain a social security number. 

Getting Help through the Process

While the road to licensure can be challenging, acquiring a license to practice in Illinois can be achieved with patience and perseverance. Working with an attorney who can advocate for you along the way can be a helpful in getting your license faster and allow you to begin your career sooner. If you completed an international education and are in the process of attaining an Illinois license, contact our experienced license defense attorneys at 1818 immediately so we can assist you in attaining your professional license. Contact us today to discuss your options.

The information in this blog post is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended to be legal advice. You should not make a decision whether or not to contact an attorney based upon the information in this blog post. No attorney-client relationship is formed nor should any such relationship be implied. If you require legal advice, please consult with an attorney licensed to practice in your jurisdiction. 

Jordan Matyas

Jordan Matyas

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Jordan Matyas is a lawyer, lobbyist, and Founder of 1818 Legal, an Illinois professional licensing defense law firm he created in 2014. With more than 18 years of experience practicing law, he represents clients in a wide range of legal matters, including professional license defense, administrative law, land use and zoning, and state, local, and municipal law.

Jordan received his Juris Doctor from the University of Illinois — Chicago School of Law and is a member of the Illinois Bar Association.