More is More: Hard Evidence in NIW Applications

Many researchers, postdoctoral researchers, Ph.D. students, and other professionals would like apply for a green card through the national interest waiver (NIW) category. The NIW category appeals to them for a number of reasons. Most importantly, it doesn’t require the labor certification (PERM) procedure or a permanent job offer. NIW applicants can also prepare their applications in a relatively short period of time.

However, many people who consider applying for NIWs may not be suitable for this category in terms of their qualifications. Based on our practical experience, I believe that their chance of success could be enhanced if they knew how to plan and accumulate hard evidence for their applications.

The approval of an NIW case is based on three factors: first, the “hard" evidence, or the applicant’s qualifications; second, the “soft” evidence, like recommendation letters and the petition letter; and third, a reasonable amount of luck.

Immigration attorneys, including those in our firm, sometimes overemphasize the soft evidence since they and their clients cannot change the hard evidence within a short time. It is true that a well-presented petition letter and strong recommendation letters increase an applicant’s chance of success. However, this practical solution is only for applicants who want to apply for NIWs right away, and thus have no time to prepare or enhance the hard evidence.

With writing petition letters, our firm’s philosophy is that less is more. A simple, clear, and dynamic petition letter is more powerful and persuasive than a redundant, complicated petition letter. For more details on this, please see our article, “Less Is More: The Art of NIW or EB-1 Petition Letters.”

Nevertheless, the hard evidence -- an applicant’s basic qualifications -- is an important factor in an immigration officer’s decision to approve or deny a case. For instance, it is difficult for a first-year master’s degree student without any academic achievements to successfully submit an NIW application.

You yourself design the road up to your NIW application. If you plan carefully in your work or program of study, you can make this road smooth and easy to travel. With a little planning, and the proper knowledge, you can work on the hard evidence for your NIW application long before you file it.

To plan this road properly, you will need to know about what kinds of documents an NIW applicant submits to prove his or her academic achievements and contributions to the national interest. Here is a list of some common hard evidence used to support an NIW petition:

  • A master’s degree or Ph.D.
  • Journal publications or conference papers
  • Citations
  • Service reviewing the work of others
  • Service as a committee chair for a professional conference
  • Awards and honors
  • Membership in professional associations
  • Research grants

If you keep this list in mind from the beginning of your career, you can significantly improve the hard evidence in your future NIW case with minimal extra time and effort.

The following tips can help you design your own smooth road to an NIW green card:

1. Obtain a master’s degree in the middle of your Ph.D. program if you don’t already have one.

The NIW belongs to the EB-2 category. EB-2 immigrants are professionals with advanced degrees or exceptional ability in the arts, the sciences, or business. An advanced degree is defined as anything beyond a bachelor’s degree. So a master’s degree is generally a minimum requirement for EB-2 applications.

NIW applicants must meet the basic EB-2 requirements. Because proving exceptional ability is an extra burden on an NIW applicant, a master’s degree helps him or her to easily reach the basic threshold for an NIW application.

Many foreign students enter Ph.D. programs without a master’s degree. They think a master’s degree will not be necessary for their NIW applications because they will eventually receive a Ph.D. However, a master’s degree can make it possible for you to successfully apply for an NIW green card even before you finish your Ph.D. program.

Many Ph.D. programs allow candidates to obtain a master’s degree by completing the required courses and a short thesis, which can be part of a student’s Ph.D. research project. So if you don’t already have a master’s degree, and you can apply for one easily, you should do so.

Our firm has helped many Ph.D. students with master’s degrees to get their NIW applications approved. Some have even received their green cards before graduation.

2. Have as many publications as possible -- if not journal publications, then conference papers.

Academic publications are important supporting documents in an NIW petition. Publications demonstrate an applicant’s academic achievements and contributions to the national interest. Therefore, an applicant’s number of publications is an important criterion for the immigration officer evaluating the applicant’s petition. Immigration officers also consider the number of citations (especially independent citations) of an applicant’s publications.

Many NIW applicants underestimate the importance of conference publications compared to journal publications. In some academic fields, journal publications are much more difficult to get than conference publications. The review process for journal submissions can also take a long time. For example, academic business journals can take years to reach a final decision on a submission. With the time delay of publication itself, getting a formal journal publication might take three or four years in some fields.

Publishing a paper in a conference is much shorter process. Conference publications are particularly meaningful at the beginning of your career, when it might be difficult to get papers published in journals. In this case, conference publications can serve as strong hard evidence for an NIW application.

Some of our applicants have had their NIW petitions approved even with no journal publications. For example, one our clients had only a master’s degree and two co-authored conference papers when he filed his NIW I-140 petition. Nevertheless, this client’s petition was approved in early 2007, within about four months of submitting his case. For the details of this case, you can read the article on our website: (

3. Play a proactive role in academic activities.

There are numerous opportunities for Ph.D. students to play proactive roles in academic activities. For example, journal editors and conference chairs frequently call for reviewers. Ph.D. students can also serve as conference session chairs or panel members. In addition to supporting your green-card application, these activities will add to your resume for future job hunting. Networking is another important area to focus on. Many Ph.D. students get jobs through the connections they have built in academic activities. But networking can also help support your green-card application in the future.

ne of our clients had no journal publications when he filed his immigration petition. He had, however, served as a reviewer and a subcommittee chair for multiple IEEE conferences. This was important supporting evidence in our client’s petition, which was approved in May 2007.

4. Build your academic network early in your career.

Recommendation letters play an important role in NIW applications. Through our extensive experience with NIW cases, we have found that there should be 5–7 recommendation letters in an NIW application package.

It is easy for applicants to get recommendation letters from their colleagues -- for example, professors in the same department or research group. However, there should also be two or three independent recommendation letters written by people who have not worked with the applicant or do not know the applicant personally. Therefore, it is imperative that NIW applicants build networks in academic activities.

There are many ways for you to build an academic network. You can participate in the discussions after presentations at academic conferences. You can bring up new research ideas with people who share your interests. You can seek collaborative projects with scholars you meet at conferences.

All of these activities benefit your career as well as your green-card application later on. If you set up connections with outside researchers, it will be easy to turn to them for recommendation letters in the future.

The green-card application process can be a long journey. Strategizing a little in the beginning can reward you in the long term. As always, life is better to those who plan ahead -- even at the earliest stages.

Knowing what kinds of documents you will need to prepare for your application will make the whole process simpler and easier. But even more importantly, working hard to accumulate hard evidence for your future green-card application -- and your future career development -- will make your NIW petition stronger and give you a better chance of getting it approved.

So that’s why, when it comes to hard evidence, we say, “More is more.” We encourage you to keep this in mind as you plan your academic or professional career.


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