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Can Airline Pilots Get a Green Card?

Posted on June 23, 2022
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By Heather Beliles, M. Ed.

Foreign-born pilots with the desire to contribute to the United State’s job market have the option of doing so by obtaining permanent residency (a green card). This status grants such professionals the permission to legally work and live in the U.S., in order to advance in their career or to serve the national interests of the United States. we also have a post about which jobs qualify for a national interest waiver that may give further guidance on applying for the NIW.

Requirements for Airline Pilots Applying for an EB-2 (NIW) Visa

As a general rule, the minimum requirement is that the pilot must have at least 10 years of experience. If he or she does not have 10 or more years of experience, they must hold a four-year degree in an aviation-related industry, along with five or more years experience in flying as a pilot. These are the absolute minimum requirements, so it is advised to have more noteworthy experience and or contributions for the best chance at getting an EB-2 (NIW) visa. 

The following are several fundamental requirements, though it is important to note that at least three of the criteria must be met:

  • 10 years minimum full-time experience flying as an airline pilot
  • Professional license/certification to fly
  • Proof of pilot’s salary/other remuneration for the services which demonstrate exceptional ability
  • Evidence of membership(s) in a professional pilot association(s)
  • Evidence of the recognition of the pilot’s achievements as well as all applicable significant contributions to the industry – either by colleagues, government entities, professional and/or business organizations
  • Academic records showing a degree, diploma or certificate related to the aviation industry from a college, university, school, or other comparable institutions
  • Any additional evidence which would be considered comparable, such as previous training, experience, managerial duties, or ability in the field which is otherwise exceptional 

The process for foreign pilots to get a green card is somewhat stringent, as he or she must submit evidence of outstanding and exceptional ability in the aviation field, but this also comes with a slightly shortened application processing time.

What is more, pilots based in the U.S. with future operations in air transportation indicate substantial contribution to the country. Therefore, there is a much higher chance of green card approval for experienced pilots considering options similar to the following:

  • Establishing an aviation charter company, hence creating jobs for fellow pilots as well as administrative personnel
  • Founding a flight school, so as to instruct future pilots about operations in aeronautics

Aviation professionals should regard the prerequisites to be the absolute minimal requirements, and should take into consideration the necessity of being a high-caliber pilot before applying.

While some may dispute the achievability for professionals in the aviator sector to obtain an employment-based visa within the National Interest Waiver category, however it seems to be the most common way for pilots to gain work authorization plus a lawful and permanent residence in the United States.

Which Visas Are Pilots Eligible For? 

Airline pilots can technically obtain another type of visa, such as an H1B, however the best and most common is an EB-2 NIW visa. The National Interest Waiver category has a framework designed for petitioners who have outstanding backgrounds both academically and professionally. For this reason, the EB-2 NIW pathway is excellent for pilots.

Do Pilots Need a Lawyer to Get a Green Card? 

Just as with most visa applications, it is not a requirement for pilots to retain a lawyer for the purposes of getting a green card. It is highly recommended though, since immigration attorneys are accustomed to the process and can successfully guide petitioners through the steps to becoming a lawful U.S. resident.

How Long Does It Take for a Pilot to Get a Green Card?

On average, the typical green card processing time for pilots is 12 to 24 months. Two ways of applying for a green card is either by filing an Adjustment of Status, or through consular processing. 

Conclusion of Can Airline Pilots Get a Green Card?

Foreign-born airline pilots have the ability to get a green card in the United States which has the benefit of providing them the right to legally and permanently reside in the U.S. 

Specifically speaking, the National Interest Waiver visa category contains a framework for petitioners who have an outstanding academic background, as well as outstanding professional experience, making it a fantastic option for pilots. Having such national interests also waives the requirement for submitting a job offer letter with his or her visa application, reducing the application processing time down to about 12 to 16 months.

Pilots are eligible for H1B and employment-based immigration visas, such as EB-1 and EB-2. In general, qualified airline pilots generally opt for the EB-2 (NIW) visa. We have a page with NIW information that may provide further guidance.

Many people ask if it is required for pilots to get an immigration attorney in order to apply for a green card, and this isn’t necessarily the case. While it certainly is acceptable for petitioners to move forward with their application without a lawyer, it is highly suggested. There are many nuances in the process that attorneys can anticipate where every-day applicants cannot.

Can Airline Pilots Get a Green Card Frequently Asked Questions

Adjustment of Status or the consular process for pilots?

The consular process allows pilots to continue working while they are outside of the United States while his or her application is pending. An Adjustment of Status, however, is much quicker.

Do I have to be a licensed pilot in the United States?

Airline pilots technically do not have to already be licensed as a pilot, but it is recommended. 

Will a military background help my EB-2 visa get approved?

No, but it can help in getting hired to work at airlines.

Can I apply for an EB-2 (NIW) visa without an FAA license?

Yes, however it is highly recommended to have current FAA, IATA and ICAO licenses.

What is the probability of my EB-2 (NIW) application being approved since I am a pilot?

The success rate for pilots getting a green card through an EB-2 visa is typically good, as long as he or she meets all of the requirements.

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