If you are a professional seeking to live and work in the United States, you have likely considered a number of immigration options.  One option that has gained considerable attention since 2017 is the EB-2 visa with National Interest Waiver – an employment-based visa that offers a direct path to permanent resident status (a green card) without the need to go through the time-consuming labor certification process, or even have a formal job offer.  EB-2 National Interest Waiver visas are available for professionals with advanced degrees (or the equivalent), or for those with exceptional ability in the sciences, arts, business, medicine or athletics. 

What Is an EB-2 National Interest Waiver? 

standard EB-2 visa requires a job offer from an American company.  Under the standard EB-2, an employer must sponsor the foreign national and go through the Labor Certification process.  This process can take six to eight months for the Department of Labor steps alone and waiting periods for a green card for applicants from countries like India and China can add years the process. 

Fortunately, the EB-2 National Interest Waiver can be a faster alternative to the Labor Certification process.  The job offers and Labor Certification requirements are waived for EB-2 National Interest Waiver (NIW) visas.  A foreign national who qualifies for an EB-2 visa can self-petition for an EB-2 NIW. An EB-2 NIW applicant does not need to have a job sponsor to qualify. 

To qualify for an EB-2 NIW, the applicant must first meet the standards for an EB-2 visa: an advanced degree (master’s or bachelor’s and 5 years of experience) or exceptional ability.  Next, the applicant must demonstrate the following: 

  1. The proposed endeavor is of substantial merit and national importance; 
  1. The foreign national is well-positioned to advance the proposed endeavor; and 
  1. On balance, it would be beneficial to the U.S. to waive the job offer and labor certification requirements of the EB-2 category. 

Carefully crafted arguments and supporting documentation is key to meeting these requirements.  

Current Processing Times for NIWs 

Notably, during the course of 2020 USCIS processing times for NIWs have diminished substantially. The length of time that it takes to process an EB-2 NIW depends on a number of factors, including the assigned United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Service Center and the officer assigned to the case.  There are currently two USCIS Service Centers that handle I-140 petitions: the Nebraska Service Center and the Texas Service Center.  Processing times will vary based on the caseloads of these centers and the individual officers but presently  the Texas Service Center claims cases are taking 4 to 6 months to process National Interest Waiver cases on average whereas the Nebraska Service Center is generally processing in 6.5 to 7.5 months.  This is a significant reduction in processing time from 2019 where it was frequently taking twice this long (or even longer) to adjudicate I-140s filed by NIW Petitioners. It is difficult to state with certainty the impact that COVID-19 will have on processing times but presently the TSC and NSC both remain open and are processing applications despite the presence of Coronavirus.

Notably the actual time frame does have wide variance and we have seen cases take substantially longer or even shorter to process based on a number of factors, including the complexity of the case. During 2019 the processing time greatly lengthened compared to prior years and usually longer than the estimates that USCIS lists as average processing times for the EB-2 NIW. So, while processing times may be shorter now, they can balloon again without much notice.  

In addition, with EB-2 cases requiring an interview, an approved I-140 does not necessarily mean the applicant will be called for their interview shortly thereafter, or that the green card will be issued immediately after the interview.  

Unlike other types of employment-based visas, premium processing is not available for NIW visas.  As such, there is no way to speed up the process beyond the fact you are already skipping the labor certification stage.  However, as long as the visa number for your country is current, as it appears it will for the remainder of fiscal year 2020 for most countries, you are also able to file your I-485 Application for Adjustment to Permanent Resident Status along with your I-765 Application for an Employment Authorization Document (Work Permit) if you are physically present in the US in lawful status at the time you file the I-140 petition. This allows you to obtain authorization for employment generally within four to six months of applying while you wait for the eventual approval of your green card. 

Utilize Experienced EB-2 National Interest Waiver Lawyers

Colombo & Hurd offers a range of services to foreign nationals seeking to immigrate to the United States.  This includes guiding clients on the best visa option for their situation and assisting them with the visa process through green card issuance.  Several of our attorneys have extensive experience with the EB-2 NIW process and we have obtained a significant number of approvals over the last several years.  Contact our Orlando office today at (407) 478-1111 or call us in Tampa at (813) 444-1114 to schedule an initial consultation.  You can also reach us online anytime.