National Interest Waiver Applicant (NIW) Guide

An all-inclusive guide for NIW

National Interest Waiver Applicant (NIW)

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National Interest Waiver Applicant (NIW)

An applicant must either hold an advanced degree or have an exceptional ability in their field that would substantially benefit the U.S. to be qualified.

Before we get started…

Applicants for the National Interest Waiver  (NIW) should know that they are applying for this waiver in the category of EB-2 Advanced Degree or Exceptional Ability. So they need to meet the EB-2 requirements first.

Processing Time

While other applications, such as the green card, have lengthy processing times that vary depending on consular processing, or domestic application status with the USCIS, or whether an individual is married to a U.S. citizen or LPR, the processing time for an NIW is pretty standard across the board.

Note: This does not include wait times accrued due to Priority Dates via the Visa Bulletin. 

Currently, applicants who submit an NIW will receive a receipt of their I-140 in 2-3 weeks. That is the most current estimate even with Covid-19.

From that point, processing times vary from 5 to 17 months until the USCIS makes a decision. You’ll receive an approval notice in the mail or via the USCIS online portal. At this point, applicants can file an I-485 if they have already not done so and if they have a priority date.

However, the USCIS can also submit an RFE—Request for Evidence, on one's NIW application. According to Nolo, a legal encyclopedia, once an applicant has responded to an RFE, the USCIS should respond back within 60-90 days.

Estimated Costs

Technically, the cost breakdown will include the application for a green card, although the actual NIW EB-2 applicant is only initially paying for the submission of their I-140 Self Petition.

The costs are as follows:

  • I-140 Petition for Alien ($700)
  • ETA 750B (free of cost)

The separate costs that will be incurred by the applicant when they have a visa number available and are able to file their I-485 application: 

  • I-485 Adjustment of Status ($1140)
  • Biometrics Fee ($85)
  • Green Card Medical Exam (Avg. price of $200, could vary depending on vaccination record)

Thus, for an approved NIW, the applicant is looking at a fee of $700. For both a green card and approved NIW, the applicant is looking at a fee of approximately $2,125 USD. This does not include airfare from a foreign country to the United States.  

What is a National Interest Waiver?

A national interest waiver is a way to obtain a green card (lawful permanent residence) if your work, which related to research, science, or furtherance of human knowledge, creates a significant economic impact. To clarify further, an NIW is a waiver obtained via a foreigner who wants to have working authorization in the United States without a job offer. The USCIS grants NIWs to individuals who are exceptionally talented in their field, and thus it would be in the United States' “national interest” to admit such individuals to the United States. Examples include researchers in the life sciences, professors who have made an impact via certain publications or awards, or physicians coming to the U.S.

What are the Legal Requirements for NIW?

As far as filing documentation and forms with the USCIS, all applicants are still obligated to tell the truth on any application filed, and discovery of fraud could lead to the applicant being placed in removal proceedings or deportation.

Additionally, admissibility requirements per the I-485 Adjustment of Status are applicable to any applicant who will file for a green card after having their EB-2 NIW approved. These legal requirements include:

  • That the applicant does not previously have an EWI—Entry Without Inspection into the United States
  • That the application has never overstayed their visa in the U.S. or been previously deported
  • That the applicant is not likely to become a public charge
  • That the applicant has never been affiliated or a member of a totalitarian party (or Nazi party)
  • That the applicant has never engaged in drug trafficking or smuggling
  • That the applicant is not violating any health-related grounds

What is the 3-Step Prong for NIW Applicants?

The USCIS uses the following three-step prong in order to accept/reject NIW applicants. When adjudicating cases, the officer needs evidence of each step in order to approve the petition.

1.     That the foreign nationals proposed endeavor (in their field of study) has an important impact in the United States. The impact does not have to be quantifiable initially. The impact can also be regional/local in nature.

2.     That the applicant is well-positioned, based on their credentials and experience, to carry out the proposed endeavor.

3.     That it would be beneficial for the United States to waive the DOL certification of the EB-2 category.

Required Documents (for NIW Application)

NIW applicants should have the following documents attached to their application, which they should either upload via their USCIS account or attach to their package they mail to a USCIS lockbox, with the fee attached:

  • Completed I-140 as Self Petitioner
  • University Transcripts (unofficial will be accepted)
  • 3 Letters of Recommendation (from previous employers, mentors, or colleagues who can attest to your impact in a field of study, issue area, etc.)
  • Publications, Awards, Certificates, Licenses, or other credentials
  • Pay stubs (USCIS will want to verify that in the applicants' respective profession, their salary was competitive)
  • Any other evidence of records of success in the field of study

Review of Timeline

1.     Submit I-140 as a self-petitioner. Wait for 2 to 3 weeks from USCIS for receipt of application

2.     Wait for 3 to 9 months for either approval, rejection, or RFE from USCIS.

3.     Decide if you would like to hire an attorney for providing additional evidence to your case.

4.     Submit evidence. Wait 60 days for a final response to the initial RFE. If a response has not been made within 90 days, please reach out to the USCIS Contact Center at 1-800-375-5283.

5.     Check Visa Bulletin under EB-2 Second Preference for Priority Date.

6.     File I-485 Application when a visa number is available.

Tracking via USCIS Online Account or via Mail

By Mail:

USCIS will send out official notifications regarding your case, so make sure your mailing address is correct and reachable. 


Log into your USCIS account, view the status of your application. Make sure to see if an RFE has come after the 3-month mark.

By Phone:

Be sure to reach out to the USCIS Contact Center if you feel as though something has happened with your application. The number is listed above at 1-800-375-5283.

Questions? We answered some of your most frequently asked questions.

What is the main benefit of having a National Interest Waiver (NIW) from the standpoint of an employer?

What kind of degree do you need to hold in order to qualify for a National Interest Waiver?

The USCIS will grant an NIW to applicants who can demonstrate that they meet all three conditions of the 3-prong test. What are these requirements?

Is there a fee to apply for a national interest waiver?

Where do I select that I am applying for an NIW?

What is the AAO?

Why is the case Matter of Dhanasar that was brought to the AAO in 2016, important for NIW applicants?

Are past achievements a good predictor for the USCIS to determine whether an NIW is worthy of being granted?

Why are reference letters so important when attaching them to an NIW application?

What are some other forms of evidence needed to attach to my NIW application?

If you don’t have any publications, can you still apply for an NIW?

What is the total EB-2, NIW processing time?

National Interest Waiver Applicant (NIW)

An applicant must either hold an advanced degree or have an exceptional ability in their field that would substantially benefit the U.S. to be qualified.

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