In fact, we considered having no recommendation letters in the application package as one of 5 biggest mistakes to make. This is because reference letters can be very useful. These are some of the important aspects your recommenders can help you demonstrate:
- Relevance of your publication record compared to others in the field
- Importance of your contributions to the field
- Reasons why you did not publish while in the industry
- Support waiving the labor certification requirement
- Number of years of experience
- How exceptional you are
- Evidence of progress in career
- Commanding a higher salary
- National Importance of endeavor and how you are well positioned
- Evidence of 10 years of full-time experience in the field (which can constitute one of the three types of evidence to provide to USCIS for exceptional ability)
How many letters of recommendation for EB-2 NIW?
Even though recommendation letters are not a requirement for EB2 NIW, it is typical and useful to include between 4 and 8 reference letters. While there are no limitations on how many you can include, there is little value added beyond eight of them. Obtaining each one of these letters is time-consuming and you should save your efforts for other more impactful initiatives.
Types of recommenders: objective versus subjective
There are two main types of recommenders for EB-2 NIW petitions. The recommenders called objective, expert opinions, or independent advisory opinions are the most valuable for NIW green card applications. This is because they are experts who may not know you personally but through your work. In the eyes of USCIS, this is an indication of your exceptional abilities. Have you realized that this is the opposite of what recommendation letters usually look like?
Typically, when we look for jobs and want recommendations, we resort to so-called subjective recommenders. These are professionals that know you personally and probably have worked with you. For example, your manager, an executive from a previous company, or your Ph.D. advisor. Even though these would be the best recommenders for a job, it is not the same for EB-2 applications. USCIS takes these reference letters for granted. In other words, it will not hurt you to have a few of them, but it will not constitute the strongest piece of evidence for your case.
How to find and approach potential recommenders for EB2 NIW
How to select subjective recommenders for EB-2 National Interest Waiver
Subjective recommenders are easy to find in your circle. Below is a non-comprehensive list of potential subjective recommenders:
- Graduate advisor
- Another professor you worked closely with
- Current or former manager
- Executive from the current or former job
- Current or former colleagues
- Human Resources person
Your academic advisor: a great subjective recommender
If you have an advanced degree and had a good relationship with your graduate advisor, he or she should be one of the recommenders. Your advisor can provide specific details on your academic experience and highlight your achievements. He or she can also specifically discuss your involvement in leadership activities, which can be hard to document otherwise. In addition, if your degree is closely related to your endeavor, your advisor can help establish why it is of substantial merit and of national importance. Particularly, he or she can explain how you are well positioned based on the work you did in the academic institution.
Moreover, if you published research while working with this professor, he or she can provide a statement in the letter highlighting how your publication record compared to other students. This is another aspect that may be hard to substantiate otherwise. The paragraph below gives an example of how to use the letter of an Advisor to support the applicant:
Letters from employers: document experience, specific contributions, and support National Interest Waiver
Letters from a boss or executive at a current or former company can also be helpful to support claims that are hard to demonstrate otherwise. For example, in my case, I had scientific publications during my time at the University, but my record stopped suddenly when I entered the private sector. This was because private companies typically restrict the information that can be shared publicly to protect their intellectual property.
While this is understandable, it may make it difficult to scientists to prove exceptional ability and good positioning to advance the proposed endeavor. A letter from a current or past supervisor or Executive can explain this and can carefully describe the scientific contributions (in the case of a scientist) that make you well-positioned in the field. This would be hard to accomplish due to the lack of public evidence.
Another example of a useful application of subjective letters is from a current employer literally stating that a Labor Certificate does not articulate your skills and experience, and it would impact the organization adversely. They can also include strong statements to corroborate you are needed in the company or institution in the long term:
“I fully expect Dr. LastName to continue playing a critical role in Organization123”
Enroll in the new EB2 NIW online course!
If you need step-by-step guidance, I will provide a series of video lessons that cover how to qualify for the 3 prongs, how to write a solid cover letter, recommendation letters, professional plan, how to fill out forms... And you will get my own successful I-140 petition and adjustment of status package!
How to find independent recommenders (or Expert Opinions)
Since independent or objective recommenders are by definition people you did not work closely with, they are also the hardest to secure. Below is a list of ideas for how to find them:
- Leaders in other companies in your field
- Professors in your field that you have not worked with
- Authors that cited your work
- Professionals you met in conferences or networking events
- Connections of connections
You should start ranking them by reputation and experience. The more reputable the potential recommender is, the stronger your application will become.
Find potential recommenders in your citation record
Another strong recommender would be someone that cited your work, which is particularly relevant for scientists. Go through your citation record and read the publications that cited your work. There are sometimes articles that not just cite but briefly describe the research you conducted in more detail. Additionally, the contact information for the authors is generally written on the paper. So, you can reach out to them to solicit their collaboration in your EB-2 NIW application.
Connections of connections: easy to approach
Connections of connections, and professionals you met in conferences or networking events, are probably the easiest way to go. In fact, I obtained my three Independent Advisory Opinions this way. I reached out to my Advisor’s collaborators and/or professors I had met in conferences (mostly also through my dear Advisor!). They work great because, on paper, there is nothing linking you and them. You have not published together, and they are not from your institution. Furthermore, they can talk about your participation in a professional convention or describe how they attended one of your talks and were impressed by your work.
How to use independent recommenders for EB-2 NIW case
Letters from subjective recommenders can be used to establish your importance and impact in the field of the endeavor. Since they know you through your work and not personally, these are the letters that will specifically highlight the aspect of your career that make you well positioned to advance the endeavor. If you are a scientist applicant, for example, they will give examples of your research findings from your peer-reviewed publications to demonstrate your contribution to the larger field.
How to approach independent recommenders?
Once you identify potential recommenders you should find their contact information and send them an email asking for their collaboration. It is easier if you have some common connection you can leverage or you had met them in person at some point. However, you may try to approach people you do not know at all. Naturally, the way you draft the email will vary depending on the situation. Below I provide an example of an email I used to contact a Professor I had personally met but had never worked with.
Example of E-mail to request a reference letter for EB-2 NIW
“Hi, Dr. Professor,
My name is Oscar LastName, we met at Conference1 in New Orleans a few years ago. I was Dr. Advisor’s student at the time. You may remember we had lunch together in a nearby restaurant and we also attended each other’s presentations during the conference. I do recall your work on Project123! I graduated from University123 with a Ph.D. at the end of 2016 and since then I have been working at a small biotech startup in Boston, Massachusetts. The name is Startup123, and our aim is to XYZ.
I wanted to ask you for a favor. My current immigration status will end at the end of the year and I am trying to get a green card to stay longer. The types of GC I am applying for require me to prove that I am an “outstanding researcher” or a “person of extraordinary ability”. There are multiple documents I have to prepare and submit, such as publications, contributions, awards, reviews… In addition, I will need to attach reference letters from experts in my field. The most important ones are from people with whom I never collaborated directly so they can judge my work objectively.
My question is…would you be able to help me by signing one of those letters? I can send you a draft so your work is absolutely minimized, and you can review and make any changes you want. I know there is no gain at all for you in helping me, but I will be extremely grateful if you decide to say yes.
Please let me know, one way or another so I can prepare a draft of the letter.“
Setting target date for completion and follow-up
Once they confirm they agree to provide the letter, you will send them the draft and politely indicate by when you would like to receive the letter back. You may need to follow up with them as that date approaches. In addition, you will want to request they use official letterhead from their institution, sign the letter using ink, and scan it for you to use. There is no need for the originals for the letters for the I-140 application. Pro Tip: Once all this process is over and you get your green card approval, remember to contact the recommenders to thank them again!
Can the recommenders be from abroad?
Yes, the letters of recommendation for EB-2 NIW can come from foreigners. In fact, one could argue that it makes for a stronger case if you demonstrate that your exceptional abilities are known across the world. Nevertheless, make sure to obtain a translation of the letters if they are written in a foreign language. In my case, 2 out of 6 letters were from professors from Brazil. However, since their letters were in English there was no need for a translation.
How to write strong EB2 NIW recommendation letters
A letter of recommendation for EB-2 NIW should be 2 to 3 pages long, or approximately 1,000 words. Ideally, they will use the official letterhead of the institution. The letter should contain an introduction by the recommender with an overview of their career, the relationship with the applicant, and the reasons for the recommendation. Finally, it should end with a closing statement and be signed by the recommender.
It is generally understood that most recommendation letters are not written completely by the person who signs them. This is especially relevant to EB-2 NIW reference letters since these are highly specific and very strong-worded letters. Typically, the petitioner will offer to draft a letter for the recommender to review, edit if needed, and sign. As the applicant, you should draft a letter from which you can extract excerpts as quotes in your cover letter. Strategize about what you need in your cover letter before drafting all the letters. This way, you can distribute different aspects among the letters in a way that makes sense.
Structure of EB2 NIW Recommendation Letters
#1 Official Letterhead
The letters should include the official letterhead of the institution the recommender belongs to. For example, the logo of a university or a company. Sometimes this is not possible because the organization may have a policy directly against producing these types of recommendations. However, it is always worth asking for it.
The letters should be dated. USCIS does not consider letters that are more than a few months old because they may no longer reflect the acclaim or recognition that the applicant is trying to establish.
#3 Address to USCIS and Subject
The letter should be addressing the US Department of Homeland Security and the US Citizenship and Immigration Services. Typically, the letter can open with “Dear USCIS officer”, or with a more neutral “To Who It May Concern” or “Dear Sir/Madam”. As the subject of the letter, the recommender can use “RE: Independent Letter of Recommendation for Mr/Dr. FirstName LastName” or similar statements.
To observe an example of #1, #2, and #3, you can check the image on top of this blog post.
#4 First Paragraph: Introduction
During the first paragraph, the recommender states that the purpose of writing such a document is to support the application for a green card. It may go even further and already give a strong statement about the significance of the applicant’s contributions. The recommender can also provide some description of how he or she knows the applicant. For example, they can say “while I have never personally met Mr. Applicant, I know him through his numerous publications in top journals such as X, Y, or Z”.
#5 Second paragraph: Recommender’s background
Early in the letter, the recommender should highlight their main contributions to the field. This is to show USCIS that this person is relevant in the field, therefore can provide a good analysis of the petitioner’s qualifications. In the I-140 application package, you will also include the CV or resume of the recommender.
#6 Central paragraphs: Highlights of the applicant’s qualifications
In the following 2 to 4 paragraphs the recommender will identify the key contributions of the petitioner to their field. Specifically, the reference letter will highlight why the petitioner is well positioned and why the endeavor has substantial merit and national importance. This is the central part of the letter, so it should contain statements to prove the claims that appear throughout the petition letter.
#7 Final paragraph: Strong support of green card petition with a call for National Interest Waiver
In the final sentences of the letter, the recommender should clearly and strongly support your petition for EB-2 green card. In addition, some letters can specifically explain why USCIS should grant you a National Interest Waiver. If you are currently employed in the United States and someone in your company is writing a reference letter, then they are the best ones to provide these statements.
Finally, remember to ask the recommenders to sign the letter using ink and scan the letter for your use.
Request CV of recommenders
In your I-140 petition, you will attach the CV of the recommenders as Exhibits. This is to provide the USCIS officer with more information that makes it clear that these people are respected professionals in the field. Alternatively, if the CV is not available, they may provide a resume or a bio sketch.
How long should a good EB2 NIW recommendation letter be?
A good reference letter should be around 1,000 words or 2 to 3 pages. Very long letters can be counterproductive, as the USCIS officer may lose focus and the strong points will get diluted. On the other hand, it is hard to produce a high-quality letter that is under 2 pages. Very short letters will miss some of the content outlined in the section above.
Summary: Get the best reference letter for your EB2 NIW case
In this article we have established why recommendation letters are a crucial part of an EB2 NIW greencard application. You should consider including 4 to 8 letters in your petition package. Among those, at least half should be from independent recommenders since USCIS gives more weight to objective references.