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What is the EB-2 National Interest Waiver?

October 18, 2023
  • Business Immigration

Each year from October 1 to September 30 of the next year (Fiscal Year), the United States provides 140,000 employment-based visas for foreign nationals. Roughly 40,000 of these visas fall under the employment-based second preference (EB-2) category. The EB-2 National Interest Waiver (NIW) allows professionals with advanced degrees, professionals with a bachelor’s degree plus five years of work, or professionals with exceptional ability to self-petition. In this post, we’ll cover the basics of the EB-2 NIW so you can determine if this is a compatible pathway for you to establish your future in the United States.

Who Qualifies for the EB-2 NIW?

The EB-2 NIW extends to three groups: professionals with advanced degrees, professionals with a bachelor’s degree plus five years of work, or professionals with exceptional ability.

For the EB-2 NIW, an advanced degree equates to a master’s degree or doctorate degree. As part of the application process, you must be able to provide detailed academic records. If you’re unable to meet the requirement of possessing an advanced degree, you can still qualify for the EB-2 NIW if you hold a bachelor’s degree plus five years of post-graduate experience. Along with your academic records, you can provide letters of support from former or current employers detailing your professional experience. One of the great things about these two categories is that the degree can apply to any educational field, which creates more opportunities for foreign nationals with degrees in the humanities, STEM, business, and more.

Professionals with exceptional ability also qualify for the EB-2 NIW. According to USCIS (United States Citizenship and Immigration Services), “exceptional ability” is “a degree of expertise significantly above that ordinarily encountered in the sciences, arts, or business.” For this category, it’s imperative to establish how your skill set goes beyond what is normally expected in your respective field. That’s why USCIS requires you to provide evidence for at least three of the following:

  • records for a degree, diploma, certificate, or award;
  • letters from current or former employers to show that you have worked in the field professionally for at least 10 years
  • license to practice a specific occupation;
  • adequate compensation for a job that requires an exceptional ability;
  • membership in a professional association; and
  • recognition of achievements.

What is the National Interest Waiver?

If you fall under one of the three categories, the next step is determining if you can provide evidence that your employment in the United States would be in the interest of advancing and benefitting the country. USCIS explains that you must meet these three requirements to quality for the NIW:

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

These qualifications require you to lay out your “proposed endeavor,” or the specific plans for your career or proposed research, and how your work will benefit the United States. An example could be a researcher who plans to focus on advancing national security. National importance can also extend to enhancing the U.S. economy by working in impoverished areas or dedicating work and research to a specific region in the U.S. Because of this, the NIW can be applied to a slew of occupations: You can have a career as a pilot, teacher, engineer, artist, professor, or scientist, but the compatible jobs aren’t just limited to these types of careers. What’s important is that you can provide evidence of your academic and professional experience or exceptional ability and that you can establish how your occupation serves the interest of the country.

For the “well positioned” requirement, USCIS will consider the following:

  • Your education, skills, and record of success in the field;
  • A model or plan that you have developed or played a significant role in developing that is related to the proposed endeavor;
  • Your progress toward achieving the proposed endeavor; and
  • The interest or support from potential customers, users, investors, or other relevant entities or persons.

USCIS will consider all these requirements—the proposed endeavor, your merit, the national importance, and if you’re well positioned—to determine if these factors outweigh the need for a labor certification and job offer. This is to ensure that U.S. workers’ job opportunities, working conditions, and wages won’t be affected if you’re granted the EB-2 NIW.

Benefits of the EB-2 NIW

There are several benefits to obtaining an EB-2 NIW. One of the major perks is that the NIW waives the need to obtain a labor certification or a job offer, so you can self-petition for this visa. This eliminates the need to work directly with an employer. Because you don’t need to obtain a labor certification, it also cuts down on processing times as labor certifications can take at least six months to be processed.

The other benefits are related to permanent residency in the U.S. Once you get your EB-2 NIW, you become a lawful permanent resident of the United States. With a green card, you can study at U.S. schools, receive unemployment benefits, and travel abroad. This visa also allows you to petition your spouse and unmarried children younger than 21 for green cards. Once you’ve been a green card holder for longer than five years, you can apply to become a U.S. citizen. If you’ve lived in the U.S. for three years and are married to a U.S. citizen, you can apply for citizenship just three years after becoming an LPR.

Cost & Processing Times

By self-petitioning for an EB-2 NIW waiver, there are several forms and applications that you must submit and pay for. One is the Form I-140, or the Immigrant Petition for Alien Workers, which is $700. As of October 2023, the processing times for this form ranged between 10.5 and 13.5 months. After this form is approved, you will file the $1,140 Form I-485 to adjust your status if you’re already living in the U.S. This processing time depends on where the field service center is located, but it typically takes at least a year. If you’re living abroad, you will file the $325 DS-260 Immigrant Visa Electronic Application, which can take a few months to be processed.

How Do I Get Started?

To start filing your EB-2 NIW, you can contact Eagan Immigration’s business attorney, Hannah Whaley. Attorney Whaley has extensive experience in the business immigration field and can guide you through the ins and outs of getting an EB-2 NIW. If you’re interested in learning more about EB-2 NIW or connecting with Attorney Whaley, call us at (202) 750-5170 or visit this link to schedule a consultation. 


Employment-Based Immigration: Second Preference EB-2 | USCIS


Chapter 5 – Advanced Degree or Exceptional Ability | USCIS

Consular Processing | USCIS

Immigrant Pathways for STEM Employment in the United States | USCIS

Processing Times (uscis.gov)

How to Apply for an EB-2 NIW Visa – Boundless