An EB-2 visa is an employment-based visa reserved for foreign nationals who have an advanced degree, or exceptional ability in their field. So Who exactly qualifies for an EB-2 NIW green card?

Applicants whose work or research is considered to be of national interest to the United States may qualify for a National Interest Waiver (NIW). Upon receipt of an EB-2 NIW, the petitioner gains legal permanent residency in the U.S. 

In general, NIW recipients are professionals in technology, medicine, business, arts, sciences, or athletics.

National Interest Waivers

An NIW is a way for foreign applicants to obtain a green card in the United States without a sponsor (employer), in order to continue working in their field. This is especially beneficial to those whose work benefits the U.S. economy, the health or educational systems, science, business, or technology – though athletes are also eligible. The criteria for receiving a National Interest Waiver is quite strict, as applicants must prove that the work in their field benefits the U.S.

According to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) website, applicants must satisfy each areas of the following three-prong test:

  • Their proposed endeavor is of “substantial merit and national importance”
  • They are “well-positioned” to execute their proposed endeavor
  • On balance, it would be in the national interest to waive the job offer and Program Electronic Review Management (PERM) certification requirements

Eligibility for an EB-2 NIW Green Card

To qualify, the applicant must first be eligible for the EB-2 visa category, and must have either an advanced degree, foreign equivalent degree or exceptional ability. Furthermore, to qualify for an NIW, he or she must also satisfy the criteria defined for their area of expertise. 

  1. Advanced degrees: A Master's, Ph.D., or other post-baccalaureate degree (or a Bachelor's degree and five years of experience)
  2. Exceptional ability: Documentation proving at least three of the following:
  • An official academic record with proof of a degree, diploma, certificate, or similar award from an institution of higher education
  • Letters documenting 10 or more years of full-time experience
  • A license/certification to practice the profession
  • Documentation of salary or other remuneration for services which demonstrate exceptional ability
  • Membership in one or more professional associations which require achievement in order to become a member
  • Recognition for any achievements and/or significant industry contributions by the applicant, either from their peers, government entities and/or professional or business organizations
  • Other comparable evidence of eligibility if no evidence from the above is available or applicable

Advanced Degree or Exceptional Ability For EB-2 NIW Green Cards

As previously mentioned, EB-2 NIW applicants must have an advanced degree or the foreign equivalent, such as a Ph.D., Master’s degree, or a Bachelor’s degree with at least five years of post-baccalaureate work experience, else they would be required to show exceptional ability. In short, applicants must have a degree of expertise which is significantly higher than what would normally be encountered in business, arts or any of the sciences.

In general, NIW applicants applying based on their advanced degree will also be required to prove they are highly skilled in their field of expertise and meet the three-prong test previously mentioned. 

Unfortunately, there isn’t any distinct list of supporting documents as required by the USCIS. The officers adjudicate based on each unique individual and their case. 

The USCIS NIW Updates webpage gives some guidance about how they determine whether the applicants are well-positioned to execute their plan, including the following factors:

  • The person’s proposed endeavor has both substantial merit and national importance
  • The person is well positioned to advance the proposed endeavor, and
  • It would be beneficial to the United States to waive the job offer and thus the permanent labor certification requirements

Additionally, the following factors are also examined about the applicant’s:

  • Level of Higher Education and knowledge
  • Professional skills
  • Official records displaying success in his or her field of expertise
  • Applicable knowledge
  • An outline of the applicant’s path going forward
  • Records showing progress made toward accomplishing the applicant’s goal
  • Demonstrable interest shown by shareholders, users, customers, or other types of stakeholders

When determining whether the PERM process is necessary, USCIS officers also consider the following factors: 

  • Whether it would be practical for the applicant to secure a job offer or labor certification given the nature of their skillset
  • Whether the U.S. would benefit from the applicant’s work, regardless of its impact on U.S. workers in a similar field
  • Whether the U.S. urgently requires the applicant’s skill set

NIW applicants must also include letters of recommendation from other professionals who are in the same field of expertise.

EB-2 NIW Green Card Cost

  • $700 for the Immigrant Petition for Alien Worker (Form I-140)
  • $1,140 for the Application for Adjustment of Status (Form I-485), if living in the U.S.
  • $200 to $400 for a medical exam 
  • $325 for the consular visa processing fee, if living abroad

EB-2 NIW Green Card Processing Times

Processing times for Form I-140 can take from 10.5 to 26.5 months. Times differ depending on where the applicant is currently residing and hence filing from. Once the applicant has received their approval, via a Notice of Action (Form I-797), he or she will then check the U.S. Department of State’s (DOS) Visa Bulletin to see whether a green card is available. This is based on the visa category and country.

When the visa is available, the applicant can then start the application process for their permanent residence . In general, it takes more than two years for the USCIS to process green card applications. However it is important to note, if the applicant is applying from abroad, it only takes between four and six months for consular processing. To save some time, and if the green card is available immediately, the I-140 can be submitted simultaneously with the green card application.

EB-2 NIW Green Card : NIW Premium Processing

Earlier this year, the USCIS expanded their premium processing service, which includes a shortened green card processing time to just 45 calendar days. The fee for this service is $2,500.

Check out our post if you want to learn more about National Interest Waiver Premium Processing in 2023.

EB-2 NIW Green Card : PERM

The Program Electronic Review Management is otherwise known as the PERM labor certification. Sponsoring employers are otherwise required to advertise the available job and test the labor market. Meaning the sponsor must put forth a bona fide effort to find a qualified U.S. worker. The process is expensive and quite lengthy. Furthermore, if the sponsor found a suitable U.S. worker but failed to hire him or her, or if there were inconsistencies in the application and hiring process, the officer reviewing the case can reject or deny the labor certification it he or she determines the above circumstances have occurred.

It is the USCIS officers who determine whether the NIW applicant’s work benefits the United States, and thus waives the labor certification requirement.

FAQs about Who Is Eligible For An EB-2 NIW Green Card

What is being waived under the EB-2 NIW?

The PERM labor certification is being waived.

What is a PERM labor certification?

PERM stands for Program Electronic Review Management, and is a permanent labor certification granted by the United States Department of Labor (DOL). It means an employer who wishes to sponsor a foreign national’s visa is not legally required to test the job market, and attempt to find (and give priority) to a qualified U.S. worker, before hiring the foreign national.

Which jobs qualify for National Interest Waivers?

There is not a specific list of jobs that qualify for NIWs, though it can be said recipients are professionals usually in the sciences, arts, medicine, technology, and business. The applicants’ work or research must simply be of substantial merit and of national importance. Simply put, NIW applicants must have an advanced degree, foreign equivalent or an exceptional ability in their field of expertise.

Conclusion about EB-2 NIW Green Card

In conclusion, EB-2 applicants can obtain permanent residence (a green card) in the U.S. through a National Interest Waiver. NIWs are granted to foreign professionals in business, medicine, the sciences and arts, technology, and athletics, whose work or research benefits the United States.

To qualify for an NIW, applicants must satisfy the following overarching requirements:

  • Qualify under the EB-2 visa category
  • Possess an advanced degree, or foreign equivalent
  • Have exceptional ability in their field of expertise
  • Have a proposed endeavor which is of “substantial merit and national importance”
  • Be “well-positioned” to execute his or her proposed endeavor
  • Have ability that is of such national importance, that it benefit the U.S.’s interest to waive the job offer and Program Electronic Review Management (PERM) certification requirements

Green card processing times can take up to two years, though it depends on where the applicant is currently living/applying from. There is the option, though, for an expedited service of the applicant’s green card application known as Premium Processing. This cuts the time down to 45 calendar days, and costs $2,500.

Upon receipt of an EB-2 NIW, the petitioner gains lawful permanent residence in the United States and is permitted to continue working in their proposed endeavor.