The national interest waiver (NIW) green card “waives” the labor certification requirement of a job offer and shortage of U.S. workers. It is a way for highly skilled foreign nationals to obtain permanent residency in the United States without having to go through the traditional employer-sponsored green card process.
The chief advantage to the NIW is that it allows the foreign national applicant to self-sponsor. As a result, the applicant may change jobs or even engage in self-employment so long as other conditions are met. There are two types of National Interest Waivers. The first applies to any individual in any occupation but the second applies only to certain physicians.
General National Interest Waiver
To obtain a National Interest Waiver from the employer sponsor and labor certification requirements under this category, the foreign national must hold an advanced degree or demonstrate exceptional ability. In addition, the applicant's work must have substantial merit and national importance; the applicant must be well positioned to advance the proposed endeavor; and it would be beneficial to the United States to waive the job offer and labor certification requirements.
Areas of “substantial merit” include such things as:
- Improving the US economy;
- Improving wages and working conditions for US workers;
- Improving education and programs for US children and under-qualified workers;
- Improving health care;
- Providing more affordable housing;
- Improving the US environment and making more productive use of natural resources; or
- A request by an interested government agency.
Breaking Down the National Interest Waiver Application: A Step-by-Step Guide
Here are the typical steps involved in the NIW green card process:
- Determine eligibility: To be eligible for the NIW, you must be a highly skilled worker with an advanced degree (Master's or higher) or exceptional ability in your field, and your work must be in the national interest of the United States.
- Prepare and file the I-140 petition: You will need to file an I-140 petition with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) along with supporting documents that demonstrate your eligibility for the NIW. This may include evidence of your education, work experience, and achievements in your field, as well as letters of recommendation and other documentation.
- Wait for USCIS decision: After filing your I-140 petition, you will need to wait for USCIS to process and make a decision on your case. This can take several months to a year or more, unless you choose the premium process option, which guarantees 45 day processing time.
- Apply for adjustment of status or consular processing: If USCIS approves your I-140 petition and your priority date is eligible, you will then need to apply for I-485 adjustment of status (if you are already in the United States) or consular processing (if you are outside the United States) to obtain your green card. For adjustment of status processing, it is possible to apply for adjustment of status along with your I-140 petition, if your priority date is eligible for adjustment of status.
- Attend an interview and receive a decision: After filing your adjustment of status, you might need to attend an interview with a USCIS officer if the application could be approved without an interview. If you apply for the consular process, an interview at the U.S. embassy is required. If either your adjustment of status or consular process application is approved, you will receive your green card and become a permanent resident of the United States.
It's important to note that the NIW process is complex and requires a high degree of preparation and documentation. It is recommended to consult with an experienced immigration attorney to assist you with the process.
Physician National Interest Waiver
Fortunately, Congress has passed special rules regarding National Interest Waivers for physicians who work in VA hospitals or in medically underserved areas. These physicians may obtain permanent residence; provided that they perform full-time medical service in a qualifying facility for five of the six years following the approval of their National Interest Waiver. After the physician has completed all five years of medical service, the DHS will approve the permanent residence application and issue the green card. To the extent the physician has served in an underserved area as part of his J-1 waiver requirements, this time will count towards the five-year requirement.
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