The National Interest Waiver (NIW) is a special green card for foreign professionals—often those completing their PhDs in the United States, who possess a certain skillset that is helping to lead critical research and development on cutting issues in the respective applicants field of expertise. This blog will be dedicated to better understanding what some of the proposed endeavors of candidates have been in the past, success rates for receiving a NIW green card, and if it matters if the candidate in question is helping to cure cancer or not.  

We will review some cases and better our understanding for what “the national interest” truly means. This term might have a broad and sometimes confusing definition depending on where you look, but we also know that the USCIS is able to quickly decipher whether ones proposed endeavor is beneficial to the United States’ national interest, so we will unpack this some more.

Common Issue Areas

Different professionals have different conceptions of what is in the national interest. This is our first problem and common question amongst those considering the NIW. For example, an applicant who might work in engineering solutions to make food packaging more sustainable (biodegradable), such an individual would see the environment as a central issue that must be in the nations interest due to the excessive waste contributed by food packaging that is being thrown out constantly.

Likewise, a scientist who is working on critical research on developing better therapies for certain types of cancer patients is going to see human health, the longevity of life, and the strength of ones family as a central issue in terms of national importance (and also because such a scientist knows all of the statistics on the mortality of certain cancer patients, how likely they are to survive, etc.) 

Essentially there is no right or wrong issue area. If you are a specialized researcher, you care more about your research, and then worry about the national interest later. As such, NIW applicants come from all walks of life. But they do have commonalities:

  • NIW applicants tend to already have been working in a lab setting
  • NIW applicants have targeted very specialized research that will help benefit an entire industry or sector
  • NIW applicants would be conducting their research whether it was in the national interest or not
  • NIW applicants have been published in their field and cited by other closely related professionals
  • NIW applicants are well versed to make, or accelerate a breakthrough in a certain field or industry

One interesting finding is that NIW applicants don’t always work in fields that are thought of as benefitting the nations interest. For example, a petroleum engineer has applied for a NIW green card, and had their case accepted. Petroleum engineers work in the fossil fuel industry. In recent years there has been a huge pushback against fossil fuels and the need to invest in alternative fuel sources that are more sustainable for future generations. Yet the national interest is still synonymous with the U.S. economy, meaning that economically oil and gas is still a major part of the global economy.

On the flipside, another NIW applicant had his self-petition approved and was granted an NIW application on the basis of their Biochemistry research on algal biofuels. The research was specialized around promoting biofuels as an alternative to the fossil fuel industry and the applicant was cited in highly acclaimed academic journals. Thus the USCIS sees national interest as tied heavily to the U.S. economy.

It’s not always the life sciences

Given these examples it’s possible to apply for a NIW application without working in the life sciences and wanting to cure cancer. This is absolutely a competitive field that one may decide to file their I-140 under, but the contrasting examples above of one applicant who worked on behalf of the fossil fuel industry, and another whose specialization was in renewable energy, shows that the national interest is broad, and follows the scope of ones project and how reputable that individual is in their field of expertise.

These contrasting case studies also illuminate the fact that what is in the U.S. national interest does not always have to be about life saving projects. Some PhD candidates might be discouraged from applying for a NIW because they believe that this is the case. However, it should be known that NIW applicants should first worry about the feasibility of their research and the scope of their project before taking up the issue of national importance.