The EB-2 NIW processing time can be from 6 months to a few years. The I-140 portion of the process can take between 3 months to 2 years, depending on the moment of submission. This can be reduced to 45 days using Premium Processing, which is available for I-140 in the EB2 NIW category since January 30, 2023. The I-485 adjustment of status portion of the process is highly variable. It depends on the date and especially, on the country of origin of the petitioner.
These time estimates do not include preparation of the application package, which will add a couple more months.
In this article, we break down the timeline to a successful EB2 National Interest Waiver submission. In sum, you will learn all about the NIW processing time.
Preparation time for EB-2 NIW submission
The timelines above do not include the necessary time to prepare the submission. However, if you are preparing the application package yourself, you will need to account for multiple hours of dedication in the key areas I describe below.
If you hire attorneys do realize that you are not fully in control of the timeline. In addition, their turnaround time may depend on how busy that particular firm is at that time. For example, they tend to get busier during H1B lottery season and some of them may slow down work on other visa types.
My personal experience was that the attorneys were slower than myself when it came to preparing a Green Card application. I worked on EB1 with lawyers and EB2 NIW by myself, and I ended up submitting earlier than the lawyers.
Understand the EB2 National Interest Waiver process
This website and other resources can help you cut down on the time you need to fully understand the USCIS criteria. Depending on the individual, this may be a few days to a few weeks of research
Complete your profile and make your case stronger
Sometimes you may want to strengthen your profile before submitting your application, so you can increase your chances. For example, I decided to delay my own application until I completed a few extra reviews in scientific journals. I knew those would help make my case stronger.
This step greatly depends on the applicant and their specific situation. Consequently, this time may vary from zero (no extra time required) to a few weeks.
Strategize on what your case will look like
Before you start writing, you will need to lay out the strategy for your case. This depends on your profile and background.
I started by re-drafting my Curriculum Vitae to populate every little detail of my experiences over my complete career.
Then, I selected which experiences and skills needed to be highlighted in my I-140 petition. That way I could understand what evidence I needed to gather to support my case. With this, I also knew who I wanted to contact to get reference letters and what the recommenders would touch on. This strategy portion may take 1 to 2 weeks depending on the person.
Contact potential recommenders
Do keep in mind that these people (typically senior professionals) are quite busy and they may take a while or multiple reminders to get back to you. I would budget 1 to 3 weeks to get confirmation that they agree to serve as your recommender. If you want to read more about reference letters, check out this guide we put together.
Draft recommendation letters for your case and get them signed
Let’s be honest: most of the time the recommenders will not draft the letters themselves. You may write drafts for them and, of course, they can make the edits they consider fit. Although some may volunteer to write the letters from scratch, this is not very common. Allow 2-4 weeks to draft the letters and to obtain the signature of all of them.
Draft petition cover letter and gather all the necessary evidence to attach to your petition
The cover letter is the central piece of the I-140 submission and what articulates the case and brings all the evidence together. This includes letters of recommendation, citation performance (for researchers), evidence of national importance, future plans… Allow 2 to 6 weeks of work to get this done.
Review your final petition draft, make corrections, and prepare for mail
It is very important that you proofread every step of the way. Additionally, you will need a final review to ensure you clean the final document of typos or mistakes. Share it with people in your circle or anyone that has gone through this process for an extra set of eyes. Finally, prepare the dossier for submission, by printing and organizing it appropriately. This should take 2 to 7 days.
Conclusions to Preparation time
As you can see, the preparation of I-140 petitions can take quite a bit of effort and time. In my opinion, it will take anywhere between 1 and a half months to 5 or 6 months to get everything ready for submission.
In conclusion, the preparation time is variable depending on the number of hours you have available. Moreover, there are external factors, such as the responsiveness of potential recommenders. Remember that working with attorneys may not necessarily shrink your timeline – in fact, it could be the opposite!
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Processing time for I-140
Until January 2023 there was no Premium Processing available for new I-140 petitions filed in the EB2 NIW category. However, this has recently changed and applicants can now pay $2,500 to have their I-140 cases decided on sooner. Under this expedited option, USCIS will provide a decision within 45 calendar days (note: calendar days could change to business days soon).
How to check the expected processing time for EB-2 NIW I-140
The official USCIS website is the best way to have a good estimate of how long it is going to take. Follow this link to get to the “Check Case Processing Times”.
First, select “I-140” in Form, “Advanced degree or exception ability requesting a National Interest Waiver” under Form Category, and “Texas Service Center” under Field Office or Service Center. Then click “Get Processing Time” to obtain the estimated wait time.
What does the Processing Time mean in the USCIS website?
They provide waiting time as completion of 80% of the cases at that moment. In the example above, 80% of cases were completed within 20.5 months (that is 1.7 years!).
According to the official USCIS website: “The processing time displayed on the USCIS website is the amount of time it took us to complete 80% of adjudicated cases over the last six months. Processing time is defined as the number of days (or months) that have elapsed between the date USCIS received an application, petition, or request and the date USCIS completed the application, petition, or request (that is, approved or denied it) in a given six-month period.”
Therefore, keep in mind that this time is a conservative estimate and there could be cases that are faster and cases that are slower. It is also possible that the overall times could change rapidly depending on many factors. Think for example if USCIS suddenly gets an increase in budget and can assign more officers. Or on the contrary, if there is a government shutdown that slows down the whole government operation.
In addition, remember that once you submit your petition you will be able to track its status. However, you will not be able to send an inquiry about your specific case unless your wait time has exceeded what is shown in the USCIS estimate.
Processing time for I-485
Once you get approval for I-140 (Immigrant Petition for Alien Workers), if you are already in the US, you will want to submit an I-485 (Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status). For this second part of the process that is a number of centers spread out around the country.
You will, however, mail your form I-485 to a centralized location in Chicago, IL (see official USCIS website) and then your case will be assigned to one of those Centers based on where you are.
For example, in my case, since I lived and worked in Massachusetts, I was assigned to the Boston Service Center. This will be clearly stated in the documentation you will receive back from USCIS after they receive your I-485.
Similar to the I-140 processing times, you can check what to expect in terms of timing on the official USCIS website.
Select “I-485” in Form, “Employment-based adjustment applications” under Form Category, and choose the nearest location under Field Office or Service Center. Then click “Get Processing Time” to obtain the estimated wait time.
Once again, this is an estimate based on their most current assessment of the situation. Indeed, times may change due to workload, resources, and staff allocation, and based on the case complexity. Use it as a guide only. As an example, at the time of writing this article, the average wait time for most centers was about over 1 year.
Additional wait based on country of origin: the priority date
There are 140,000 employment-based green cards granted each year by USCIS. Section 201 of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) regulates this number. Section 202 of the INA sets the maximum quota per country of origin, at 7%. This is the reason why your country of origin matters when it comes to determining how long you will have to wait for your green card. The country of origin for this process is not the nationality but the place of birth.
The priority date for a green card is the “place in line” that the applicant retains during the process, and it determines when the permanent residency will be processed (this is the I-485 part of the process).
Where can you check your priority date?
You will find your priority date in the I-797 form that USCIS will mail to you once they approve your I-140. For EB-2 NIW the priority date is the date your I-140 petition was received by the US government.
The picture below shows exactly where the priority date is on your I-797 form.
How to determine the wait time based on priority date?
Once you have a priority date for your case, you will need to check the Visa Bulletin. The USCIS issues these bulletins each month. In these, USCIS specifies who can file I-485 based on their country of origin and priority date. Click here to access the official USCIS website with the Visa Bulletins to check for the most recent one.
When you access the bulletin, you will need to check the appropriate table depending on your situation. For example, if you are an individual filing for EB-2 National Interest Waiver green card, you will go to “EMPLOYMENT-BASED PREFERENCES” and check the “DATES FOR FILING OF EMPLOYMENT-BASED VISA APPLICATIONS” table as shown below:
Select the row “2nd”, because the category EB-2 is the second employment-based category, and then look for your country on the column headers. Typically, China and India have backlogs. This means that even if they get I-140 approval, they will need to wait until their date is current (denoted by the letter C in the table) before filing I-485 and initiating the last part of the process to get their green card.
In the example above (Visa Bulletin of June 2022), a person born in China would need to check their priority date and if it was on or before May 1st, 2019, then the I-485 form could be submitted for processing.
What is visa retrogression?
The typical course of action for priority dates would be that with each Visa Bulletin release, dates moved in a way that more petitioners can file their I-485.
However, there are times when a new Bulletin shows earlier priority dates for certain categories and/or countries of origin. This is visa retrogression and it may happen because of an increase in people applying for a certain green card category. In other words, there are more applicants than visas available.
Green card processing times are declining in 2023
Even though we saw a historically long processing times in 2022 for employment-based visas, the trend is rapidly changing. According to official data from USCIS, the median time to process I-140 (non Premium Processing) sits at 4.4 months now compared to over 9 months last year. This is the shortest it has been since Fiscal Year 2017! On the other hand, the adjustment of status processing time is longer than 10 months. Only five years ago it was 7 months.
Contrary to 2022, where we were seeing near peak processing times also for Advanced Parole and EAD issuance, the situation is getting better across the board. Of course, the Fiscal Year 2023 just started and the figures are only partial, so we will need to continue monitoring the situation during this year. The table below shows official information from the USCIS website:
Immigrant Petition (non Premium Processing)
Employment-based adjustment applications
Advanced Parole Document
EAD for pending I-485
The EB-2 NIW processing time can go from a few months to several years depending on three key factors:
- The case and how long it takes to prepare all the documentation for the petition
- The exact moment of filing, which will dictate what are the “lines” of petitioners at that moment
- The country of origin of the petitioner. Typically, petitioners born in China and India will wait more than others to complete the second step of the process due to the quota-based system.
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