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How To Receive A USA Green Card Without Employer Sponsorship: National Interest Waiver

Updated: Apr 23, 2023

Receiving a USA green card without employer sponsorship may be possible through a process called the national interest waiver (NIW).

Also known as the EB-2 NIW green card, this is a way for you to essentially self-sponsor your own green card by proving the work you do benefits the United States economy, education system, health system, or another important industry.

This means you do not need an employer to sponsor your green card! You also skip the stressful step of the Labor Certification process. This is when the U.S. employer has to prove that there are no qualified U.S. citizens for your position (a step that stops many applications from moving forward).

Minh Nguyen, a former international student from Vietnam, successfully earned a U.S. green card through the EB-2 NIW method after experiencing a few setbacks with his employers.

(If you’re wondering what EB-2 means, be sure to read to the end of this article!)

Disclaimer: This is the experience of one international student. We do not guarantee that you will have the same results. The purpose of this article and video is to make you aware of the national interest waiver green card. Please make sure you consult with an immigration attorney.

Watch this episode of Let’s Meet For Coffee to hear from Minh about the EB-2 National Interest Waiver Green Card

National Interest Waiver Green Card: Minh Nguyen’s Story

Minh’s entire immigration journey takes place over 15 years. He arrived in the United States with a full scholarship to attend the University of Kansas. After graduating with his bachelor’s degree he started working for a global company in Houston, Texas.

But when it came to sponsoring the H-1B working visa, the company encouraged Minh to apply for job openings in other countries. No hope for H-1B sponsorship, let alone green card sponsorship, from this company.

So Minh returned to school to work on a master’s degree. Now entered employer #2, a non-profit research organization. This organization was more than willing to sponsor Minh’s H-1B visa. However, the grant funding they were counting on was not approved.

Once again, Minh was stuck. Not only was he stuck, but his wife was too. Dependents of those on F-1 visas (known as F-2 visas) are not permitted to work in the U.S.

Minh returned to school, began a Ph.D. program at the University of Wyoming, and started doing energy research with Los Alamos National Laboratory, one of the 17 national labs under the U.S. Department of Energy.

Then, he learned about the national interest waiver from a friend and started learning more about this self-sponsorship process.

Are You Eligible For A National Interest Waiver Green Card?

You must pass two tests to determine your eligibility for a NIW green card.

General EB-2 Eligibility Test : Do you meet one of the following?

  1. You have an advanced degree (master’s or Ph.D.), or a bachelor’s degree and five years of experience

  2. You have demonstrated exceptional ability in your field

For most international students they are able to pass this test because they have a master’s or Ph.D.

National Interest Waiver Test: Do you meet ALL of the following three criteria?

  1. Your work is of national importance to the United States

  2. You will be able to advance your work

  3. It would be in the best interest of the country if the U.S. would consider waiving the usual job and labor certification requirements

When it comes to the national interest waiver test, this is where it can be extremely helpful to consult with an immigration attorney who is familiar with this process. They will be able to advise you if the work you’re doing qualifies as a national interest to the United States.

If you hold citizenship from India or China, be sure to read below about the Visa Bulletin and EB-2 work category backlog.

Minh’s 7 Steps To The NIW Green Card

With the advice of an immigration attorney, Minh followed these seven steps to his NIW green card.

  1. Obtained a master’s degree

  2. Performed research and published his results

  3. Researched and reached out to different immigration law firms

  4. Selected an immigration law firm and signed a contract

  5. Gathered important documentation to prove that his work was in the national interest of the U.S.

  6. Reached out to people in his field to write recommendation letters on his behalf

  7. Finalized the petition letter (also known as the I-140) and application and submitted USCIS

Additionally, Minh completed the I-485 since he was applying within the U.S. This requires you to submit fingerprints, complete a background check, and receive a medical exam from an USCIS-approved doctor.

The entire process took Minh a little more than one year to complete, and is now a proud U.S. green card holder. As because he received a green card, his wife received one too. When eligible, Minh plans to apply for U.S. citizenship.

Country Of Citizenship and Employment Categories: The Visa Bulletin

If you feel like you are a strong candidate to apply for the NIW green card, it is critical to understand the visa bulletin and how your country of citizenship and employment category play critical roles in your path to a U.S. green card.

The U.S. Department of State updates the visa bulletin every month to show which green card applications are allowed to move forward for approval. The date your I-140 is approved (like Minh mentioned in step 7) becomes your “priority date.”

So essentially, you wait in line until your priority date becomes current, meaning your green card application will be reviewed for approval. And you know if your application is current by checking the visa bulletin.

And depending on your country of citizenship and employment category, you could be waiting a very long time…or no time at all.

Receive a USA green card without an employer: national interest waiver falls in the EB2 category

February 2021 Visa Bulletin courtesy of the U.S. Department of State

You recall earlier in this article, we refer to the NIW green card as the EB-2 NIW green card. You see, there are different employment-based categories on the visa bulletin. The NIW green card falls under the EB-2 category.

So by taking a look at the February 2021 visa bulletin, we can see the following:

  1. China citizens in EB-2, with a priority date of 01OCT16, will begin having their green card applications reviewed

  2. India citizens in EB-2 with a priority date of 15MAY11 will begin having their green card applications reviewed

  3. Citizens of Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, the Philippines, and all other countries are current. This means their applications will be available for immediate review.

As you can see, if you hold citizenship from China or India and your green card application falls in the EB-2 category, you have several years to wait until your application will be reviewed.

However, it may still be beneficial for you to submit an application.

Be sure to consult with an immigration attorney about your best options, or perhaps your work can bump you up to the EB-1 category.

Final Words of Immigration Advice

Minh shared his advice for international students looking to make the leap from visa holder to permanent resident:

  1. Plan ahead of time and go the extra mile to network with people in your field. You can get letters of recommendation or perhaps better job referrals.

  2. If you are in research, publish your work early so that it has more time to gather citations.

  3. Talk to legal professionals early in the process to explore all possible options.

  4. Know and remind yourself of the reason(s) why you want to be in the United States. Learn as much as you can about all the opportunities available in the U.S., volunteer your time when you can, and build a support network to help you when life gets you down.

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