8 misconceptions about EB-2 NIW green card process

Misconceptions about EB-2 NIW

The green card process may look complex and scary. There are many misconceptions about EB-2 NIW green cards that need to be debunked. In this article, we go over the main wrong ideas or myths about this permanent residency category to help you navigate this process.

Misconception #1: Not having an advanced degree disqualifies you

Nothing further from the truth. You do not need a Ph.D. or a Master degree to qualify for an EB-2 NIW. You can qualify with a bachelor’s degree and 5 years of progressive work experience. By progressive experience, I mean that you can demonstrate that you have grown in your profession over time. For example, you can provide evidence that you were promoted and/or gain more and more responsibilities.

You can qualify for this category of green cards even without a bachelor’s degree. In fact, proof of exceptional ability can overcome the lack of a degree. You may substitute that requirement using letters of current or former employers documenting at least 10 years of full-time experience in the field, and fulfilling two more requirements. This is explained on our EB-2 NIW basics page.

Misconception #2: Think that you need to have a lot of publications and a lot of citations to your work

Publications and citations can certainly be of help when claiming exceptional ability. However, they are not a requirement in themselves. Indeed, think of many fields where publications are not even an expectation. Remember that since Dhanasar’s case, the EB-2 NIW category has opened beyond scientists and doctors.

A computer engineer may be at the top of his field and have zero peer-reviewed papers. Not to mention a businessman! Even scientists may have valid reasons not to have many papers. For instance, a researcher in a private company may not have the possibility to publish their work due to confidentiality agreements. Instead, one can leverage recommendation letters to provide similar evidence. In fact, that was exactly my case when I submitted my application for National Interest Waiver!

In addition, you can prove exceptional ability by showing many other aspects of your success:

  • Conference presentations
  • Invited lectures
  • Awards
  • Appearances in newspapers, podcasts, magazines…
  • Being a recipient of grants, scholarships, or fellowships
  • Belonging to professional associations that require achievements for acceptance

Misconception #3: Thinking you are too young to qualify

Hundreds if not thousands of applicants received their EB-2 NIW green card at a young age. Many during their post-doc years. In my case, for example, I received my approval at the age of 30 and I am sure I was not the youngest! Being in the early years of your career does not mean you do not have the qualifications to meet the requirements. Review those requirements again and think objectively if you can fulfill them or not; not based on your age but on your abilities and accomplishments!

Remember that the cases are approved at the discretion of the USCIS officer. Therefore, it is not necessary to meet a requirement 100%. This is because the officer may accept many partially fulfilled requirements when it comes to judging your application in its entirety. In fact, this is what USCIS calls “two-step evidentiary review” and it is stated in a Policy Manual for USCIS officers. Take a look at the full manual here!

Screenshot Policy Manual USCIS

Misconception #4: Need a sponsor or a job to be eligible for EB-2 NIW

The EB-2 NIW main advantage is that you do not need a sponsor or a job. You may apply to it while still in college or grad school if you meet the requirements. Of course, if you are employed in the US, you can use that to your advantage when telling your story in your application. However, this is not a requirement. In my case, I was employed by an American company, and I used it to my benefit when describing how I was well positioned to advance my endeavor. Additionally, my company supported my application by providing two letters that I attached to my I-140 application.

Misconception #5: Cannot add dependents

Even though you are the petitioner of your application, you can include your family members as dependents. You will list them in your I-140 submission, and again when you submit your adjustment of status (form I-485). This is definitely one of the common misconceptions about EB-2 NIW I hear more about!

Misconception #6: You need an H1B visa to apply for EB-2 NIW green card

You do not need to be on a working visa (H-1B) to apply for an EB-2 NIW green card. Many apply when they are on F-1 visas, even during their OPT training periods. And of course, you can be on an H1-B while applying for EB2 NIW, but it is not necessary. You only need to make sure you can meet the requirements for this green card category. That being said, the visa type you hold is important to determine if you should avoid traveling during this green card process.

Misconception #7: You need to be in the US to petition for EB-2 NIW

You may apply for EB-2 NIW from anywhere in the world. You do not have to be inside the United States. However, if you apply from abroad the second part of the process will be slightly different as you will not be doing an Adjustment of Status but something called Consular Processing.

More specifically, when you file for I-140 you will specify you want to do Consular Processing. Then, your case will be handled by the National Visa Center (NVC) and they will forward the petition to a consular office abroad for processing of the green card. 

For example, let’s say you are a person residing in India and you want to apply for EB-2 NIW from your country. First, you will select Consular Processing during your application. Then, once your I-140 is approved and your priority date becomes current, the NVC will send the case to one of the US Consulates in India. Finally, you will receive an appointment to go to that consulate and finish the process.

Misconception #8: You need a lawyer to file for EB-2 NIW

You can choose to use attorneys, or you may opt for a do-it-yourself approach without lawyers.  Indeed, EB-2 NIW is a green card category in which you can self-petition, so there is no requirement to have a lawyer. In certain situations that may be complex, you may benefit from having professional help. In most cases, filing your own EB-2 NIW is doable, especially if you can get your hands on someone’s application to help you prepare yours. That is exactly why this website exists! Do not hesitate to download my very own I-140 petition to understand what it takes to craft a strong application.


Don’t believe everything you read about the EB-2 NIW green card application process. Seek the official information about requirements to understand if you are eligible. The policy manual that USCIS officers use to review cases is a hidden gem: use it to debunk common misconceptions about EB-2 NIW.

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