A critical part of the National Interest Waiver (NIW) application is having the right kinds of letters of recommendation to attach to your application package. This is no easy task. Applicants need to think critically about where they have worked and where they have established not just connections but also relationships with previous managers who will be able to write competently on their behalf.

The letters are meant to show the USCIS how the applicant has potentially been an innovator in their field, and what their specialization is in their given field or industry. The letters are also supposed to suggest to the USCIS that the recommender is an authority figure who is verifiably giving the applicant the acknowledgement that they are innovators in their field or specialization.

As such, this blog will be dedicated to better understanding how to provide a letter of recommendation from outside of your network, and how this might work from start to finish. We want to emphasize that you don’t only have to include letters from close connections in your NIW application.

Don’t Sell Yourself Short

“Don’t sell yourself short” is an expression that basically means that you shouldn’t undervalue yourself and that you should give yourself the credit that you deserve. On the NIW application, applicants need all the credit they can receive for a good review by the USCIS. One way to do this is to look for a recommender who can write you a letter, but who is not in your immediate network. Some of the ways that applicants can make this a feasible process is by taking the following steps:

1.     Using Twitter or LinkedIn to find professionals who work in the applicant's field of specialization. Interact with them and start to develop an online presence.

2.     Find or research institutions that act as authority figures in your field. Notify professionals who work at these organizations of your innovation or proposed endeavor. Ask them to read some of your work i.e. publications or vice versa give some of these professionals feedback on their own work/research.

3.     If you are a Ph.D. student/candidate, initiate talks with new professors on campus in regards to your proposed endeavor. Sometimes having an outsider’s opinion can be extremely valuable.

4.     Initiate conversation with a professional in your field who has previously written letters of recommendation, as they will have some experience in writing a clear and cohesive letter to the USCIS.

The point of the above three steps is to initiate talks with other professionals you wouldn’t normally talk to. It involves getting out of one comfort zone and reaching out to professionals who might greatly appreciate the work you have done.

Applicants who are able to leverage connections outside of their network might receive some of the best letters of recommendation because the letter will focus solely on the proposed endeavor and the applicant's innovative potential. These letters will also include less filler material about the kind of person the applicant is (which the USCIS is not very interested in), and more on the actual thematic concern.

Having an authority figure from a well-known institution write you a letter of recommendation will attest to the applicant's skill, knowledge base, and ability to advance the proposed endeavor. A USCIS officer might not be very knowledgeable on cancer research breakthroughs, but they will understand if someone from the Cancer Research Institute is able to write the applicant a letter of recommendation.  

Avoiding Biases

In addition, one of the downfalls of having too personal of connections write you a letter of recommendation is that the recommender focuses on the individual (which is great), but uses less words and descriptive analysis to actually cite how the applicant is advancing their proposed endeavor. Having recommender praise the applicant for being a good person will not reflect negatively in front of a USCIS officer, but it might leave them confused about how the applicant will be able to impact the U.S. economy or the national interest. Applicants should be cognizant of this before asking for a recommendation letter from anyone. This is perhaps one way the USCIS might issue an RFE and something to avoid throughout the application process.

USCIS NIW PhD student