Now that the H-1B season has ended, emigration to the United States can seem like a distant dream. The process will start up in October, but it will be the same long file and wait time that it is every year for H-1B visas.
Some highly skilled people do not need to wait, however. The National Interest Waiver (NIW) as part of an EB-2 visa is available for a select number of people who are highly skilled. If you qualify, you do not even need to have an employer sponsor you to enter the United States and stay for up to three years.
The NIW is quite rare. In 2017, only 1,742 in total were granted. In order to qualify you have to be a person of "exceptional ability" whose employment in the US would "benefit the nation." That is a high standard to live up to.
Many of those who qualify are physicians, but scientists and engineers are also commonly granted a NIW. In order to meet the standard, you must meet three of these criteria:
- Proof that you have a degree from a university showing exceptional ability
- Letters which document ten years of experience
- A license to practice in your field
- Evidence that you have been paid a high salary
- Membership in a professional association
- Other recognition in your field
There is no one way to qualify for the NIW. You do have to show that you are more than an ordinary worker, however. Typically it takes at least a master’s degree or a PhD to enter into the NIW program.
How is it different?
The two most important differences between a NIW and any conventional visa are the immediate consideration and lack of an employer sponsor. Both of these can save a lot of time. There is no reason why the process should not start immediately for any qualified applicant.
It takes a standard I-140 form to begin the process, along with supporting documentation for the qualifications listed above.
Do you need an attorney?
It is not required that you hire an attorney to obtain a NIW. However, the process is unusual and subjective, so experience helps considerably.
Hiring an attorney who has successfully obtained NIW visas in the past can be important. If you want to emigrate to the US and think that you might qualify, a consultation is a good place to start.