Understanding Different Metrics of Success for NIW Applicants

NIW applicants need to submit a considerable amount of supporting documents with their application package. This brief guide helps explain what matters on individual documents and how to highlight best practices in one's case.

The National Interest Waiver requires applicants to submit many different supporting documents with their application. In this blog, we’ll discuss that while not every application is the same when it comes to the NIW, supporting documents are always relative to the industry that one is working on. Thus, it is important for applicants to realize that when they are assembling materials to submit to the USCIS, they need to be cognizant of what is really significant in their field and its trajectory and not to get confused with what others are submitting. In other immigration categories, the standard of evidence, such as a tax return is always the same.

Before commenting more on this and going into specific examples, let’s take a brief look at all of the supporting documents that applicants can submit with their package:

  • University transcripts
  • Letters of Recommendation (showing at least 10 years of full-time experience in an occupation)
  • Recognition of achievement via awards or publications (if applicable)
  • Membership in a professional organization (if applicable)
  • License (mainly for physicians)
  • Citations and references


A good jumping-off point to understand the diversity of applicants is to look at citations and how they factor into the application process for those pursuing an NIW. First off, in some fields or industries, citations are highly valuable. In others, highly successful entrepreneurs do not have any citations or have one citation to their name. It simply depends on the applicant. That being said, citations look great for some applicants and present convincing evidence to the USCIS.

Let’s take for example an applicant who works in the humanities. Citations are critically important in this field. If your work is cited by other leading authors in the field, even better. If your work is cited in leading journals that are an authority figure on certain issue areas, this is convincing evidence. It means that people in the respective applicants' industry look to the applicant for their knowledge or advice, and at a high level if the journal is noteworthy.

By contrast, engineers are not well known for having a lot of publications or having their work cited. But on the other hand they may have patents for creating something— an invention. Thus an engineer who is trying to provide evidence in the form of supplementary documents to the USCIS should not worry about citations. They should instead focus on how they have created an impact in their field.

Reference/Recommendation Letters

The next category involves letters of recommendation. Here, applicants need to be extremely careful in who they choose to write their letters. Where was the applicant working that they made an impact in their field? How long did it take and was their recommender aware of the time that was put into such an accomplishment? Did the applicant influence others in their field to think about their profession in an innovative way? Did they develop a certain mentorship with a recommender who can express how their work relationship led to advances in their field/profession?

When picking a recommender, these questions matter. The USCIS will look at one's letters to see how the applicant in question created an impact in their field. Oftentimes, an officer will review an NIW case and submit an RFE or reject the applicant not because the applicant is not exemplary, but because they lack that extra added element of innovation or entrepreneurship.


A final consideration for applicants is to be consistent when submitting one's resume. Make additions or highlight key points in one's career that line up to the applicants' lifelong achievements. In addition, a well-written resume might show officers that what is important in their letters of recommendation is just as well understood in one's resume they submitted as an attached document.

Putting it all together

Overall, metrics of success differ greatly, but success and impact as results are still narrowly defined by the USCIS when reviewing ones case. Thus, it is important to choose the small, but significant details when assembling ones application. In addition, applicants should know that the Matter of Dhanasar, a 2016 case reviewed by the Administrative Appeals Office (AAO), has changed some of the criteria for NIW applicants and has helped applicants win cases.

For example, Dhanasar has changed the standard of evidence needed by stating that “past achievements are not the best or the only predictor of future success” which the USCIS must now consider along with the fact that a preponderance of the evidence is the standard for adjudicating cases instead of the “beyond any reasonable doubt” standard.

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H-1B Visa

H-1B Visa

H-1B visa is used by businesses and organizations in the United States to employ foreign nationals with the preferred qualifications, knowledge, and expertise in a role.

I-485 Adjustment of Status

I-485 Adjustment of Status

Submit a form I-485 application to apply for lawful permanent resident status.

National Interest Waiver (NIW)

National Interest Waiver (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.