Immigration Tips for Foreign-Born Researchers
Becoming a lawful permanent resident and obtaining a green card is the goal of many foreign-born scientists who come to the United States to study and conduct research. Unfortunately for would-be immigrants, U.S. immigration law is confusing, and much of it is based on the premise that U.S. workers need to be protected from the competition of would-be immigrants.
Fortunately, the law recognizes that scientists and R&D engineers are different from other foreign-born workers, and special immigration options exist for highly qualified scientists and engineers. Under current immigration law, three specific Immigration Petitions are appropriate for highly qualified scientists and researchers, and there are a few steps foreign-born researchers can take to improve the chances of their petition being approved.
THE NATIONAL INTEREST WAIVER
The National Interest Waiver (NIW) case is a great option for a researcher who has a PhD or Masters degree. It also can be a great option for people who have the equivalent of a master’s degree (a bachelor’s degree and 5+ years of experience) The NIW case does not require a sponsoring employer and can be filed directly by the researcher. The supporting evidence for an NIW petition would include information concerning the researcher accomplishments, the number of peer-reviewed articles published by the scientist, whether the scientist has been asked to serve as a judge of other researchers’ work, among other evidence. Click HERE for more information on the National Interest Waiver.
ALIEN OF EXTRAORDINARY ABILITY
The Alien of Extraordinary Ability petition is appropriate for researchers who have already risen to the top of their field. It is an EB1 level case and he can be submitted directly by the foreign-born researcher, and does not require a sponsoring employer. It is a great option for individuals from countries that are subject to a Visa Backlog in the EB-2 category.
OUTSTANDING PROFESSOR OR RESEARCHER
The Outstanding Professor or Researcher petition is an employer-sponsored petition for scientists who are recognized internationally as outstanding in their field. Most often this case is filed by a university or a high-tech company. It is a great option for individuals from countries that are subject to a Visa Backlog in the EB-2 category.
A FEW TIPS
In addition to submitting information concerning the scientist or engineer’s work, and publications, each of these three petitions requires the researcher or engineer to submit a set of letters of recommendation from expertise in the same field attesting to the petitioner’s scientific achievements. It is important that these letters be skillfully written to address the criteria that are of most importance to the reviewing immigration officer. But in addition to what each letter says, whom the letter is from is often just as important.
For example, letters from scientists who do not know the petitioner personally, but only through the scientist’s publications or conference presentations, are seen as more credible than letters from a scientist’s close colleagues. Letters from close colleagues are helpful, but letters from scientists who have not worked with the petitioner significantly improve the chances of approval. As a result, as foreign-born researchers make their way through their studies and research, it’s a good idea for them to keep track of (and keep in contact with) researchers with whom they have discussed their work, e.g., at various scientific conferences. Contacts with researchers in foreign countries are also important, as they can help prove the scientist’s international reputation. Likewise, it helps to keep a list of researchers who have commented positively about, or have shown significant interest in, the scientist’s work. When it comes time to request a letter of recommendation, these contacts could be of significant value.
Additionally, immigration officials have a tendency to give greater credibility to letters that are written by researchers at government labs or agencies. As a result, graduate-level and postdoctoral researchers should keep track of people they know who work at such facilities.
As noted above, participating as a judge of the work of fellow researchers can play a significant role in the approval of these petitions, especially Alien of Extraordinary Ability and Outstanding Researcher petitions. One way to satisfy this criterion is to review articles submitted to academic journals. Foreign-born scientists could contact editors of journals that have accepted their publications and volunteer to review submitted articles. Similarly, volunteering to review abstracts submitted for presentations at scientific conferences also is an excellent way to serve as the judge of other researchers’ work.
Although these three petitions are among the most difficult immigration petitions to be approved, scientists who follow the tips presented in this article can improve their chances of approval.