Advanced Degree Professional vs. Exceptional Ability

To apply for an employment-based, second-preference National Interest Waiver(NIW) petition, applicants must first qualify either as an Advanced Degree Professional who holds an academic or professional U.S. degree above the baccalaureate level or a foreign degree equivalent above the U.S. baccalaureate level; or as an Alien of Exceptional Ability who holds a degree of expertise significantly above that ordinarily encountered in the alien’s profession. It is not necessary to qualify for both. The lists below include the documentation and forms required for these two categories.

Advanced Degree Documentation

Most applicants who apply for an NIW petition hold advanced degrees rather than possessing “exceptional abilities.” For advanced degree holders petitioning for an EB-2 visa, a labor certification and U.S. job offer are usually required. These standard requisites are not necessary for an NIW, however. In addition to Form I-140, applicants must submit either:

  • An official degree certificate demonstrating that they hold a U.S. advanced degree or a foreign equivalent degree above the U.S. baccalaureate level


  • An official degree certificate demonstrating that they have a bachelor’s degree equivalent to the U.S. baccalaureate level and letters of recommendation from current and/or past employers that show at least five years of progressive work experience in their field or profession

For more detailed information about the Advanced Degree component, refer to our article: "Using Experience to Meet the EB-2 Advanced Degree Requirement."

Exceptional Ability Documentation

Petitioners applying as exceptional ability candidates are required to have a level of expertise significantly greater than that normally encountered in their field. Applicants must additionally demonstrate that they will substantially benefit the national economic, cultural, or educational interests and/or the welfare of the United States because of their exceptional skills in the sciences, arts, or business. They’re required to submit at least three of the following:

  1. Official academic record demonstrating that they have a degree, diploma, or certificate from an academic institution relating to the area of exceptional ability;

  2. Letters of recommendation from employers demonstrating that they have at least 10 years of full-time work experience in their field. A full list of the recommenders must include the recommenders’ names, titles, and organizations;

  3. License to practice and/or certification required for their profession;

  4. Evidence of membership in professional associations, based on ability;

  5. Evidence of recognition of their achievements by peers, professionals, or business organizations in the profession. Such evidence may include publications, publication citations, abstracts, or invitations to conferences, as well as comments on published works by critics or journal referees; and/or

  6. Evidence that they command a salary or other remuneration that demonstrates exceptional ability; this may include, for example, grant funding awarded for research projects.

Please keep in mind that meeting either of these qualifications does not guarantee success in an NIW case; doing so is only a minimum requirement. NIW applicants must additionally show that they meet the other substantive requirements for this petition.

The NIW process is complex and, at times, a bit convoluted. We recommend that you seek the assistance of experienced immigration attorneys. Over the past two decades, we have successfully represented thousands of clients in their NIW cases. If you would like to contact us, please call us at (713) 771-8433 or visit us at one of our seven locations. You can also send us an e-mail at Our superior attorneys will ensure that you receive only the highest quality of service.

Read the USCIS ruling (Matter of Dhanasar) governing NIW here. And for more detailed information about the National Interest Waiver, including minimum requirements and USCIS policies, please click on the relevant links on this page:

Updated 03/23/17