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Which Jobs Qualify for a National Interest Waiver?

Posted on June 26, 2022
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By Heather Beliles, M. Ed.

There is no precedent set by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services limiting which jobs qualify for a National Interest Waiver. Theoretically speaking, any occupation qualifies for an EB-2 NIW visa. The USCIS has, however, established strict criteria for applicants seeking an EB-2 NIW visa.

Put simply, jobs held by professionals with the following characteristics qualify for a National Interest Waiver:

  • Exceptional ability in their field
  • Demonstration of how his or her employment is of national interest to the United States
  • Possession of an advanced degree if lacking exceptional ability in his or her field
  • Meet all three of the National Interest Waiver criteria

National Interest Waiver (NIW) Criteria

The USCIS uses specific factors to ascertain whether the applicant’s work is of national interest. When the outcome is favorable, the USCIS will waive the job offer requirement.

There are three National Interest Waiver criteria which must be satisfied by individuals seeking the waiver, other than evidence of an advanced degree. If no advanced degree exists, the applicant must prove exceptional ability in his or her profession. The criteria are as follows:

  • The applicant’s proposed endeavor contains substantial merit and is of national importance
  • The applicant is well-positioned to advance his or her proposed endeavor
  • The applicant and their proposed endeavor is of significant benefit for the national interest of the United States

Who Qualifies for an EB-2 National Interest Waiver?

A foreign national whose occupation benefits the economy of the United States, whether in the educational or healthcare systems, or in another aspect of society. The two main criteria are:

  • A foreigner who qualifies for an EB-2 visa
  • A foreigner who meets all three of the Matter of Dhanasar decision test as outlined above

The Definition of Exceptional Ability For NIW

According to the USCIS employment-based visa policy manual exceptional ability is defined with the following guideline:

  • Ability to show exceptional ability in the sciences, arts or business
  • Having a degree of expertise significantly higher than what is typically found within the sciences, arts or business fields
  • Satisfy at least three of the subsequent criteria:
    • Official academic record(s) of degree, diploma, certificate, or similar award from a college, university or any other educational institution (relating to the field of reported exceptional ability)
    • Supporting documentation, including letters, of 10 or more years of full-time experience in the stated profession
    • A license or certification to practice said occupation or profession 
    • Evidence of salary or other monies paid for services rendered which prove exceptional ability
    • Membership in a professional association(s) related to the field
    • Recognition for achievements as well as recognition for significant contributions to the industry by either peers, government entities or by professional or business organizations
    • Additional evidence of eligibility as deemed acceptable

Substantial Merit for NIW

Furthermore, individuals applying for an EB-2 National Interest Waiver must prove the substantial merit of his or her proposed endeavor in areas such as the following professions:

  • Entrepreneurship
  • Business
  • Art
  • Culture
  • Science
  • Technology 
  • Education
  • Health
  • Athletics

As such, applicants tasked with proving his or her proposed endeavor as being substantially merited, he or she must provide a description of the proposed endeavor as well as a detailed reasoning such merit is substantial. Additionally, the relevant evidence must support the petitioner’s claims and establish merit to his or her proposed endeavor.

Examples of substantiation include, but are not limited to the following:

  • Memberships in professional organizations
  • Awards which are nationally/internationally recognized
  • Publications by the applicant
  • Publications about the applicant
  • Evidence of others relying on the foreign national’s work
  • Citation records of the foreign national’s work(s)
  • Letters of recommendation from peers, government agencies, companies, etc.
  • Patents
  • Contracts
  • Professional or enterprise licenses 
  • Technological transfers
  • Grants
  • Other government funding

Do I Need a Master’s Degree to Qualify for the NIW?

The level of degree to consider when applying for an EB-2 NIW is an advanced degree. Such a degree must be higher than a Bachelor’s, so it does not necessarily mean a Master’s degree. 

If the petitioner has a Bachelor’s degree (or a foreign equivalent) but no degree higher than a Bachelor’s, the exceptions are as follows:

  • The applicant must have five or more years worth of progressive in post-baccalaureate experience in the field
  • The applicant must demonstrate he or she has exceptional ability in his or her profession or occupation
  • Exceptional ability especially in the sciences, arts or business
  • The applicant may be a professional athletes
  • Aliens of exceptional abilities in the arts for purposes of qualifying in the second employment-based preference

National Interest Waiver Jobs List

Having said that, the following occupations may qualify for a National Interest Waiver under the second-preference employment-based visa:

  • Airline pilot
  • Entrepreneur
  • Business manager
  • Economist
  • Professor
  • Researcher
  • Scientist
  • Architect
  • Artist
  • Animator
  • Musician
  • Singer
  • Pharmacist
  • Physician
  • Nurse
  • Dentist 
  • Veterinarian
  • Engineer
  • Designer
  • Lawyer
  • Therapist
  • Urban developer or planner
  • Consultant

It is important to remember, applicants with the above professions will not automatically qualify for an NIW. EB-2 NIW applicants must provide evidence of exceptionalism in their profession, as well as how his or her employment in the United States benefits the country.

Conclusion of Which Jobs Qualify for a National Interest Waiver?

The answer to this question is somewhat nuanced. The basis for such qualification requires the applicant to have substantial merit and prove his or her employment in the United States is of national interest. While this is the guideline, there is some flexibility in the NIW visa category, as substantial merit and national importance are not clearly defined. Focusing one’s attention to the specific question of which jobs qualify narrows the answer. The emphasis should be placed more so on whether the applicant themselves qualify.

Substantial merit generally involves the improvement of the United States economy. Perhaps benefiting the wages or the working conditions of workers in the U.S. or contributing to the healthcare or educational sectors.  Likewise, proposing an endeavor which improves access to affordable housing, or any other advantageous contributions to the environment. 

Examples of substantiation include, but are not limited to memberships, awards, publications by or about the applicant, evidence of others relying on the foreign national’s work, letters of recommendation, patents, contracts, professional licenses, governmental grants.

Individuals are most likely to qualify for a National Interest Waiver when they can demonstrate exceptional ability in their field and how their work serves as national interest to the U.S., as well as provide evidence of an advanced degree in his or her profession. If the applicant does not have an advanced degree (not necessarily a Master’s) then he or she must prove exceptional ability in the sciences, arts, business, or may be a professional athlete. 

All NIW applicants must satisfy the three NIW criteria as defined in the Matter of Dhanasar decision test, such as the proposed endeavor must be of substantial merit and national importance, the applicant should be well-positioned to further their proposed endeavor, and the applicant’s proposed endeavor is of significant benefit to the United States.

There is no set standard for professions which qualify, by default, for a second-preference employment-based National Interest Waiver visa, however many individuals have been granted an NIW in occupations such as aviation, enterprise, entrepreneurship, science, technology, medical, dental, engineering, law, urban development, and consulting.

Frequently Asked Questions About Which Jobs Qualify for National Interest Waiver?

What is being waived?

The labor certification process requirement, where a company must advertise its newly available position, and make a good faith effort to find a suitable U.S. citizen to employ, is waived.

What are the advantages in applying for a national interest waiver?

There is no requirement for having a job or sponsor. Applicants can self-petition if they don’t have a job or their employer refuses to file on their behalf. There is no requirement for a labor certification process (PERM). Furthermore, it is exceptional ability, not extraordinary ability which must be demonstrated. 

How can I apply for the National Interest Waiver?

All supporting documentation which demonstrates the applicant's qualifications for the waiver must be filed with the applicant's I-140 petition (to the USCIS) either from the applicant's employer or by the petitioning applicant.

Are there any other advantages to applying for EB-2 NIW?

Mostly all countries have a current priority date, with the exception of applicants born in China and India. As such, Chinese and Indian applicants must have a current EB-2 priority date in order to file his or her Adjustment of Status (Form I-485) with their Immigrant Petition for Alien Worker (Form I-140).

How difficult will it be for my NIW application to get approved?

The difficulty lies predominantly with the applicant’s ability to demonstrate the proof of substantial merit that his or her proposed endeavor has, and how he or she is exceptionally qualified for a role which serves as a benefit to the United States. Unfortunately though, all cases are handled differently by each individual immigration officer. If the evidence is accurate, persuasive, well-documented, substantially merited, and benefits the United States, there is a high probability of getting approved.

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