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What Is an EB-2 NIW Visa (And Why It's Easier to Get One Than You Think)

What is an EB-2 NIW visa? Discover how easily you can apply for a green card using this route, including eligibility criteria, forms, and filing fees

Jemima Owen-Jones
Written by Jemima Owen-Jones
February 16, 2024
Contents
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Key takeaways

  1. The EB-2 NIW has become a popular way to obtain a green card due to its fast processing times and high approval rate.
  2. Applicants must have an advanced degree or extraordinary ability and prove their work can significantly contribute to the US economy.
  3. Our guide helps you understand whether you’re eligible for the EB-2 NIW and walks you through the application process.


The EB-2 NIW offers a straightforward path to a green card and permanent residency in the United States. Without the need for employer sponsorship, foreign specialists can apply directly and expedite the visa process.

You may question your chances of success given the high standards. One of the criteria is that your work must be in the national interest of the United States. However, securing an EB-2 NIW may be easier than you think—over 80% of applicants get approved every year.

Continue reading to see what to expect from the EB-2 NIW application and how Deel Immigration can help you.

Disclaimer: Our article is for informational purposes and isn’t intended as legal advice. To learn more about your specific case, consult with a qualified immigration attorney.

What is an EB-2 national interest waiver (NIW)?

The EB-2 NIW is a type of immigrant visa that foreign nationals can use to apply for a US green card. It stands for ‘employment-based visa, second preference with a national interest waiver’.

Unlike work visas, the EB-2 NIW doesn’t require an employer sponsor. You can petition directly to the US citizenship and immigration services (USCIS), provided you can show your expertise would significantly benefit the country. 

Immigration officials then waive the job offer and labor certification requirement, which means they can process your application faster.

While the criteria may sound challenging to meet, the EB-2 NIW has a high approval rate. It’s become an increasingly popular way for foreign specialists to obtain permanent residency in the US. Since 2018, the number of applicants has climbed from just over 8000 to around 40,000 per year.

Deel Immigration clients are often surprised by how easily they can get the waiver.

I almost fell off my chair finding out my EB-2 NIW was approved.

David Obasiolu, CEO and co-founder , ChowVerified

Advantages of the EB-2 NIW

There are many benefits to the EB-2 NIW, but the main attraction is the job offer waiver. 

With the NIW, you don’t have to secure a job offer before applying for the visa. You just have to prove you have a worthwhile endeavor which could be with a US company or your own business.

You can also eliminate the lengthy labor certification process which checks there are no qualified US workers that could perform your job. According to the Department of Labor (DOL), the average processing time for this test is 363 days—basically, a year.

Self-petitioning gives you more flexibility and control. You don’t have to wait for your employer to send you documents or complete their forms. There’s also less risk of the worst-case scenario where the employer rescinds their job offer.

At the end of the process, you become a lawful permanent resident of the US. You can live and work wherever you like within the country for an unlimited time. There’s also the option to support dependents, specifically your spouse and any children under the age of 21.

 

Who qualifies for an EB-2 NIW?

We can split the criteria for the EB-2 NIW into two categories: what qualifies you for the employment-based classification and the national interest waiver. In this section, we’ll explore the visa requirements and the evidence you need to give for each. 

EB-2 criteria

You must have an advanced degree or outstanding ability in your profession to be eligible for the EB-2 category. Meeting either of these conditions is usually straightforward, as USCIS recognizes a wide range of qualifications and experience.

Here’s a breakdown of the eligibility criteria and how you can prove you meet them:

Type of EB-2 NIW Requirements Evidence
Advanced degree You must hold:

  • A US master’s degree or foreign equivalent

OR

  • A bachelor’s degree or foreign equivalent plus five years of relevant experience

OR

  • A doctoral degree or foreign equivalent if that’s typically required for the job
You must submit:

  • Official academic documentation
  • If required, letters from former and current employers to prove you have five years experience in your field
Exceptional ability

You must possess expertise beyond what’s typically expected in your field.

You must present three of the following:

  • Official academic records related to your work
  • A professional license
  • Evidence of membership in a professional association
  • Letters from current or former employers proving you’ve had a minimum of 10 years of experience in your field
  • Proof of recognition in your field, such as awards, honors, or grants
  • Financial records showing you’ve been paid for your expertise

Before applying, check whether your level of education meets the requirements. Some foreign qualifications seem equivalent but have important differences. For example, a typical Master’s course in the UK only lasts one year, but they take two years in North America. 

Have any doubts about your eligibility? Deel has partnered with Legalpad who have experience helping customers get approval for a range of employment-based visas. We can confirm you meet the criteria or suggest the next best alternatives.

Learn more about the different types of work visas that Deel supports.

NIW criteria

To qualify for a waiver, USCIS says your work must meet three conditions (known as ‘prongs’) under the Matter of Dhanasar:

  1. Your work is of national importance to the US.
  2. You’re the best person to perform the work.
  3. The US would benefit from expediting your visa.

These criteria are intended to be general and cover a wide range of ventures. As a result, USCIS doesn’t provide a checklist of supporting documents and judges each applicant on a case-by-case basis. However, they suggest some evidence you could include:

  • A detailed job description or business plan
  • Any qualifications beyond your degree
  • Intellectual property, such as patents, trademarks, and copyrights
  • Data showing the progress you’ve already made in your field
  • Letters of recommendation from partners, clients, and employees
  • Published reports or articles highlighting your accomplishments
  • Copies of contracts or agreements 
  • Evidence of investor or government funding

For instance, imagine you’re an expert in renewable energy. You might submit a detailed project proposal, technical drawings of your solar panel prototypes, and patents for your technology. You could include a comparative analysis that shows how the output from your farms would be higher than current US standards.

You have stronger chances if you’re working in an area of national interest with high demand. For example, the fastest-growing occupations in the US are currently wind turbine technicians, nurses, and data scientists.

Collating your evidence can take several weeks. Deel Immigration can advise you on which documents to use and how to draft convincing reports or proposals. We can also help you categorize and label your paperwork correctly when you submit it to USCIS.

A look at the EB-2 NIW application process

Although the EB-2 NIW has a high approval rate, you need to plan ahead for a smooth application process. Here are the steps you’ll need to take:

  • Complete the I-140 form: Usually, the employer handles some of the I-140 (immigrant petition for alien worker). As you’re waiving the need for a sponsor, fill in their portion of the form with your own details. USCIS states you must give your job title, SOC code, and job description in part 6 at a minimum
  • Attach supporting documents: You must submit any paperwork with form I-140. If you’re posting a lot of documents, USCIS asks you to label each piece of evidence and state whether they support the visa, the waiver, or both
  • Pay the fees: The current filing fee for the I-140 form is $700, but it increases to $715 on April 1st, 2024. You can pay via check, money order, or credit card transfer
  • File forms: You can submit the I-140 petition any time during the year. Post the form to the USCIS address for the state you intend to work in
  • Track your progress: When USCIS receives your application, they’ll send you a receipt notice with a number. Use this to track your status visa on the government portal. If immigration officials need any extra information, they’ll contact you directly
  • Await the verdict: If USCIS approves your EB-2 NIW, they’ll send you a notice called I-797 to the address you gave on your application

The entire I-140 application process should take between four to six months. There’s the option to pay an additional fee of $2805 for premium processing and reduce that time to just 45 days.

Deel Immigration can ensure a seamless visa process. We guide you through the different forms and filing fees so you avoid any pitfalls and keep your application on track. Any time you’ve got a question, you can arrange a meeting to get one-on-one support.
Legalpad by Deel has made my immigration journey incredibly easy and stress-free. Moving your business to the United States is challenging, and it can be especially overwhelming when you have to figure out how the immigration process works from scratch. Legalpad by Deel has all the qualities of an agile and modern startup and the expertise and talent of a large firm. I had my O-1 and later my EB-2 visas approved with no issues and Legalpad by Deel did all the heavy lifting. Highly recommend.

Sofia Quintero, Co-Founder, EnjoyHQ (Acquired by UserZoom)

What happens after approval

Once USCIS has approved your I-140, you still have to apply for permanent residence. You’ve established your eligibility for an employment-based visa, but you also need to pass background checks.

You can apply using form I-485 (application to register permanent residence or adjustment of status) as long as you intend to stay in the US. If you leave, you must undergo consular processing in your home country.

The I-485 petition has a high approval rate, especially for employed-based categories. In fact, immigration data from the Department of Homeland Security shows that admissions for EB-2 visas are at an all-time high. All you need to do is ensure you submit the correct paperwork and attend any appointments.

The first step is to check your priority date, which is when USCIS received your petition. You’ll find this on your I-797 notice.

Then look at the visa bulletin to see whether processing is available for your category and nationality. Scroll down the page to the section called ‘dates for filing of employment-based visa applications’ to find your table. If your priority date is earlier than the one listed, you can begin filing the I-485 form.

As well as filing the form, you’ll be required to:

  • Attend an interview with an immigration official
  • Arrange a medical check at a USCIS-approved health center
  • Undergo a criminal record check and give your biometric data
  • Pay filing fees of $1225 

You can monitor the progress of your application via the USCIS case studies page. You’ll need your receipt number, which you will also find on your I-797 notice. The average processing time is between 10 and 20 months.

As soon as USCIS approves your petition, you become a permanent resident. You’ll receive your physical card in the post via the US postal service.

Boost your visa chances with Deel Immigration

Securing a green card without a US employer has never been easier. Approval rates are high, and there’s a wealth of resources to help you with the process.

Deel’s team of experts can guide you through the applications and appointments to ensure your success. We can also advise you on how to build a compelling case for your proposed endeavor so you can prove your merit.

Contact the Deel Immigration team to see how we can support your green card application.

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