Disclaimer: The contents of this post are intended to convey general information only and not to provide legal advice or opinions. The contents of this post should not be relied upon for legal advice in any particular circumstance or fact situation.  The information presented may not reflect the most current legal developments. Further, this post may contain technical inaccuracies or typographical errors. No action should be taken in reliance on the information contained in this post and we disclaim all liability in respect to actions taken or not taken based on any or all the contents of this post.  An attorney should be contacted for advice on specific legal issues.

June 26, 2018

Visa and Green Cards for Researchers Q&A

In this very special blog post, we have teamed up with Rachel Casseus, Esq. from Casseus Law to present this informal Q&A on visa and green card options for researchers. The purpose of the blog is to present information and answers to some commonly asked questions.

After you have read the blog, please feel free to ask questions. We will pick the most commonly asked questions and will publish them in the future. We are unable to answer questions specific to individual postdocs.  Please consult an immigration attorney with questions specific to your particular situation.

What Are My Immigration Options as a Postdoctoral Researcher?

You have a number of options, as long as you meet the qualifications to obtain approval in the specific eligibility categories:

There are a number of paths to a visa or permanent residence (i.e. Green Card) for researchers. In this blog, we will explore questions related to the visa and green card application process as well as going over the baseline requirements for O-1 Individuals with Extraordinary Ability or Achievement visas and Employment Based National Interest Waivers (NIW), Extraordinary Ability (EB-1A) and Outstanding Researchers and Professor (EB-1B) eligibility categories for permanent residence.

**Cap-Subject Industry H-1B**

The H-1B visa is the most common and widely used visa category for companies to hire foreign nationals. Cap-subject H-1Bs are numerically limited as there is a numerical quota of 85,000 total H-1B visas approved each fiscal year: 65,000 visas plus 20,000 reserved for individuals who have obtained a US Master’s degree or higher degree including a PhD degree. The H-1B allows U.S. employers to employ foreign workers in specialty occupations. US regulations define a "specialty occupation" as requiring theoretical and practical application of a body of highly specialized knowledge in a field of human endeavor including but not limited to biotechnology, chemistry, architecture, engineering, mathematics, physical sciences, social sciences, medicine and health, education, law, accounting, business specialties, theology, and the arts, and requiring the attainment of a bachelor's degree or its equivalent as a minimum” (8 U.S. Code § 1184 - Admission of nonimmigrants). The foreign worker must possess at least a bachelor's degree or its equivalent and state licensure, if required to practice in that field. H-1B work-authorization is strictly limited to employment by the sponsoring employer.

Employers may request H-1B work-authorized status for an initial period of up to three years. After this initial period, the Employer may request an additional period of up to three years, for a total of six years. A foreign national who has completed six years in H-1B status will be required to leave the United States for at least a year before again becoming eligible to be sponsored for an H-1B visa for a new period of six years without having to go through the cap process. H-1B holders who have exceeded their 6 year limit may receive extensions of their H-1B status if the foreign national is the beneficiary of an approved employment-based immigrant visa petition but is unable to adjust status to permanent residence in the U.S. due to the backlog of per country quotas on immigrant visas or if a PERM labor certification has been filed on the individual’s behalf at least one a year prior to their 6th year limit on H-1B.

How do Cap-Subject H-1B Visas Get Assigned?

Cap-Subject H-1B visas are assigned by lottery. Does this mean that someone is picking out of a hat? I hope not. There are less than 85,000 H-1B visas available each year and the supply of these visas is typically exhausted within the first week of filing April 1- April 5. United States Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS) record the number of petitions received and announce to the public whether the number of petitions has met the quota. In April 2017, USCIS received approximately 200,000 Cap-Subject H-1B petitions in the first week of April for selection under its fiscal year quota.

Every year, H-1B visas are granted in two primary groups. There are 20,000 visas reserved for foreign nationals who earned their Master’s, Ph.D or higher than bachelor's degree group and another 58,200 visas for foreign nationals who have obtained a U.S. or foreign Bachelor’s degree or a combination of education and experience that is equivalent to a Bachelor’s degree or higher. USCIS reserves 6,800 visas for citizens of Singapore (5,400) and Chile (1,400) for H-1B1 visas. These visas are generally under-used and remain available throughout the fiscal year. Unused numbers reserved for H-1B1s are added back to the next year’s total quota.

What is the H-1B Lottery?

The H-1B Lottery in Depth, yet Simplified: USCIS receives H-1B Cap-Subject petitions filed during the first five (5) business days of April. Incomplete petitions are sorted for immediate rejection. Applications that clear the initial quality check will be sorted into two batches, one for petitions on behalf of individuals holding a U.S. earned Master’s (or higher) degree and the non-advanced degree petitions. All petitions are then assigned a random number. USCIS runs a lottery to select winners under the 20,000 advanced degree group. Any cases not selected will then be added to the non-advanced degree group and USCIS then conducts a second lottery. All lottery winners will then have their filing fee checks cashed and receipts for all petitions selected in the lotteries with be created and sent. Petitions that are not selected will be rejected and returned together with the filing fee checks. If USCIS receives more than one H-1B cap petition by an employer for the same foreign national beneficiary under the H-1B cap in the same fiscal year, USCIS will disqualify the petition if selected.

Academic H-1B

The Academic H-1B allows employers to avoid the 85,000-visa numerical quota. Four types of employers are not subject to the H-1B cap:

  • Institutions of higher education

  • Non-profit entities related to or affiliated with institutions of higher education

  • Non-profit or U.S. governmental research organizations

  • Organizations that require the H-1B employee to work at one of the first three categories of employers.

H-1B petitioners are exempt from the cap if the applicant works at institutions of higher education, a related or affiliated nonprofit entity, or nonprofit research organizations or governmental research organizations. Since there is no numerical limit, employers may file petitions regardless of H-1B visa number availability. Like the Cap-Subject H-1B, the Academic H-1B is strictly limited to employment by the sponsoring employer. There is no possibility to hire yourself.

O-1A Visas Extraordinary Ability in the Sciences, Athletics, and Business

The O-1A visa requires employer or agent sponsorship. You may not self-petition for an O-1A.
O-1A visas also require an Advisory Opinion from a trade or consulting organization, or a reputable peer group stating that the individual has a sustained reputation of extraordinary ability in their field. If there is no applicable peer group, you may submit a letter from the foremost  expert in the field as a substitute for the advisory opinion.

What are the Criteria for the O-1A Visas Extraordinary Ability in the Sciences, Athletics, and Business?

The individual must either demonstrate a one-time achievement at the caliber of an Olympic Medal or Nobel prize, or satisfy at least three of the following criteria:

  • Receipt of lesser nationally and internationally recognized prizes or awards for excellence in the field of endeavor
  • Membership in associations in the field which require outstanding achievements of their members, as judged by experts in the field
  • Published materials about the individual in professional or major trade publications, or appearance/published materials about the individual in other major media
  • Participation, either individually or as part of a panel, as a judge of the work of others in the field (including requests to serve as a reviewer/referee for articles to be published, invitations to serve on discussion and advisory panels, etc.)
  • Original scientific, scholarly, artistic, athletic or business-related contributions of major significance in the field
  • Authorship of scholarly articles in the field, as published in professional or major trade publications or in other major media
  • Serving in a critical or essential capacity for organizations or establishments that have a distinguished reputation; and/or commanding a high salary or other significantly high remuneration for services, as compared to others in the field.

National Interest Waiver

The National Interest Waiver (NIW) category forms the basis for an individual to obtain lawful permanent residence (a green card) to allow them to live and work in the United States for the individual and their derivative family members including spouses and children under 21 years of age. The NIW allows for self-sponsorship of the I-140 application, meaning that the category does not require a foreign national to have an employer or a job offer in order to obtain permanent residence. This type of green card waives the arduous US Department of Labor certification process that requires testing the labor market for a US worker.

The recently established case Matter of Dhanasar provides the three-prong test that US Immigration officers use to determine if an applicant qualifies for the National Interest Waiver. The three prongs are:

  1. The foreign national’s proposed work endeavor must have both substantial merit and national importance

  2. The foreign national must be well positioned to advance the proposed endeavor

  3. The foreign national’s proposed endeavor will be beneficial to the United States

For the purposes of evaluating an NIW, the USCIS Officer reviewing the case focuses on the impact of the individual’s past work on the field. NIW requirements stress “educational background, expertise, and plan for future activities.” (Matter of Dhanasar), including the interest of the greater scientific field, potential customers, investors, or other relevant entities or individuals.

A successful NIW case should include evidence that the individual is well-positioned and has a high level of skills that have already benefited the US. We like to highlight that our clients are not competing with US workers, but instead are benefiting the US because their work is so novel and groundbreaking that waiving the Labor Certification Process is necessary.

What are Examples of Evidence that I can Submit to Support my National Interest Waiver Application?

  1. Official academic record showing that you have a degree, diploma, certificate, or similar award from a college, university, school, or other institution of learning relating to your area of exceptional ability: If you obtained your advanced degree outside of the US, you will need to obtain a credential review stating that your degree is the equivalent of a degree obtained in the United States. There are a number of services that you can use to obtain a credential review.

  2. Recognition for your achievements and significant contributions to your industry or field by your peers, government entities, professional or business organizations. This criterion is most easily presented through letters of recommendation from people who are in your field. It is important that the experts writing letters on your behalf come from your field or a very closely related field. The recommendations can come from people in academia, industry, government, etc., as long as they are in your field. These letters are the most critical documents in your application since they can make those working in immigration more comfortable approving you case. Casseus law vets your recommenders before sending the recommendation request to ensure the experts fit the right profile to be providing a recommendation. The goal with the recommendation letters is to show your history of achievement in your field.

  3. You can include the work that you performed to obtain your Master's and Phd and also your current work.

  4. A license to practice your profession or certification for your profession or occupation: This criteria is usually reserved for architects, lawyers, doctors who require licensure to practice.

  5. Evidence that you have commanded a salary or other remuneration for services that demonstrates your exceptional ability: USCIS is looking for evidence that you have obtained a high wage compared to others in your field. This criterion is rarely used by current Ph.D.’s and postdocs in lab settings, but may be available for high wage earners in industry settings.

  6. Membership in a professional association: This can include being a member of a journal editorial staff, member of a scientific society, conference steering committee, review board. USCIS wants your membership to reflect your achievements in your field. Paying $25 to join IEEE or The American Oncologist Society does not count.

  7. Authorship of work published in print or on the web: This includes journals, books and patents. We even submitted a case that included sharing code on GitHub as proof of publication. Do not wait to be the first author of a Science or Nature paper to start your green card process! Immigration is not looking for you to be the 1st author on every paper.

  8. Patents: Immigration gives weight to patents when they are licensed. You can potentially include all filed and granted patents as proof of original work and contribution to the field.

  9. Media Coverage: Capture existing news articles and save them in a PDF format. The media coverage is what others write about you, not what you post yourself. However, you can be proactive and assist in obtaining press – i.e. You can contact NPR to have them write a story about your work. These media stories can complement existing coverage such as media coverage from your institutional website or lab group’s webpage highlighting your work.

  10. Awards: Immigration will only consider awards granted to you after you receive your advanced degree: masters or Ph.D. If you don’t have an advanced degree you can include awards won during your professional career. Awards include US government grants, travel awards, conference awards. We are seeing that immigration is recognizing Young Investigator awards granted by professional societies.

  11. Grants: You can present grants that you are working under in your lab to show that you are doing work that is in the US national interest because your lab has received US government funding.

EB-1A Extraordinary Ability Category

The EB-1A also referred to as the Einstein visa requires that you prove that you are amongst the top people in your field. US Federal regulations define “extraordinary ability“ as a level of expertise evidencing that the individual is one of a small percentage who have risen to the very top of a particular field in the sciences, arts, education, business, and athletics. The regulations further require that the person have received national and international acclaim. National or international acclaim can be demonstrated by receipt of a major internationally recognized award such as Nobel Prize or the Academy Award. For everyone who is too early in their career to obtain a Nobel, you will need to prove that you satisfy 3 out of the 10 criteria listed below and also prove that you meet the Kazarian test that your application as a whole prove that you are amongst the top experts in your field.

Do I need an Employer to Apply for an EB-1A?

No, the EB-1A Category allows an individual to self-sponsor his or her own case. There is no requirement that you have a job offer or employment. I would highly suggest that you apply while you are still in academia or a job to show that you are working in your field.

What are the EB-1A Criteria?

Prove that you meet 3 out of 10 Criterion and Pass the Kazarian Test:

  1. An international or national award for excellence in your field.
  2. Membership in a professional organization – this is not referring to one that you can pay for, but one that you are invited to join due to expertise in field and your reputation for being a top expert in the field.
  3. Publicity in major media and/or trade journals: You the individual must be named in the media report (NPR, New York Times, respected online sources) and the media should discuss YOU and YOUR work.
  4. Participating as a judge most commonly presented as performing peer reviewer for journals, acting as a journal editor. You must be individually selected to perform the PI, not acting on behalf of your PI, and you must complete the review. Save the emails asking you to perform the review and the emails confirming that you have completed the review.
  5. Original contributions to the field that have had a major impact. For example, you were the first person to identify a novel protein found in skin cancer, your work is currently being used in clinical trials and your continued work is helping to create therapeutics to cure melanoma.
  6. Authorship: Publishing books, journals online and/or in print.
  7. Display of work at artistic exhibitions or showcases (not usually applicable to scientists, but could be relevant if your work was displayed at a prestigious conference such as the World Economic Summit or NIH conference
  8. Having a lead role or critical role at a prestigious institution: This criterion is consistently under scrutiny. USCIS wants you to prove that without your critical role at the institution the work would not have been possible.
  9. High Salary: this a rarely used criteria and rarely used by postdocs.
  10. Commercial successes in the performing arts- not relevant at all. Please do not include the fact that you are a classically trained ballerina who has performed at Lincoln Center. Your case should only focus on your current scientific achievements.

You are allowed to use other comparable evidence if the above types of evidence do not readily apply to your abilities.

What is the Kazarian Test?

In 2010, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reviewed the denial of a petition filed under the classification of EB1-A, the Kazarian case. The AAO announced that the Kazarian case sets forth a two-part approach. Part One: the adjudicator counts the evidence provided: one time award or 3 out of 10; Part Two: Final Merits Determination.

Part 1: Did you Meet the Criteria?

The adjudicator reading the case first determines whether the individual has submitted evidence to meet the EB-1A criteria including evidence of receipt of a major internationally recognized award, such as a Nobel Prize, or at least three types of evidence from among the 10 types listed in the regulations listed above. In determining whether the applicant has received a major award (quite unusual) or has shown that she meets at at least three types of evidence, the reviewing immigration officer examines the evidence provided to determine how many evidentiary prongs have been satisfied. After deciding that the applicant shows that they have evidence proving that they meet at least three evidentiary prongs or one major prize has been satisfied, the adjudicator then goes on to part 2.

Part 2: What is the Totality test?

Many people think that as long as they meet three criteria they are all set and should be granted an EB-1A. What they don’t realize is that the officer must consider all of the submitted evidence in its totality to make a determination that the applicant is at the very top of his or her field of endeavor. Officers are looking for evidence of how the applicant’s work has impacted and been adopted by the field as a whole including individuals and companies that are using the individuals work.

EB-1B Outstanding Researcher or Professor Category

The EB-1B does not allow for individuals to self-petition. You need the support of your institute to do this one. Universities will usually only support tenure track professors. Casseus Law has seen that research institutions are willing to sponsor postdoctoral researchers for the EB-1B using the concept of indefinite employment to fulfill the requirement that an EB-1B application is reserved for long term employees of the institute. For the EB-1B, you need to prove 3 threshold requirements: (1) that you have international recognition for your outstanding achievements in your specific academic field, (2) that you have three 3 years of research experience in the field, (3) that you have an offer of permanent, tenured or indefinite (no fixed termination date) employment at a university or institution. As an additional requirement if you work for a private company you must show that your company employs at least 3 full-time people engaged in research activities.

What documentary evidence do I need?

The EB-1B requires that you provide two out of six forms of documentary evidence:

  1. Evidence of receipt of major prizes or awards for outstanding achievement.
  2. Evidence of membership in associations that require their members to demonstrate outstanding achievement.
  3. Evidence of published material in professional publications written by others about the alien's work in the academic field.
  4. Evidence of participation, either on a panel or individually, as a judge of the work of others in the same or allied academic field.
  5. Evidence of original scientific or scholarly research contributions in the field.
  6. Evidence of authorship of scholarly books or articles (in scholarly journals with international circulation) in the field

The EB-1B category historically has a high rate of approvals with USCIS due to the fact that the requirements are not as demanding as the National Interest Waiver or the EB-1A. Furthermore, the ability to leverage the prestige of the employer makes EB-1Bs a very attractive option.

Obtaining an Employment-Based Green Card is a Two Step Process

The process to obtain your permanent residence through the employment-based categories including the National Interest Waiver, Extraordinary Ability (EB-1A), Outstanding Researchers and Professor (EB-1B), is a two step process. The first step requires you to prove to USCIS that you meet the eligibility criteria to be approved in the specific category in which you are applying. We will discuss criteria below.

After you prove that you have the requisite credentials, proof of original contributions to the field, citations, publications, the fact that your work is being used by others in your field, etc., USCIS will approve your Form I-140 and then goes on to perform the second step to review your Form I-485 green card criteria and perform the requisite background checks. At this step, USCIS is seeking to ensure that you are not a threat to the US and that you are a person of good moral character who has maintained their visa status and does not have any outstanding issues that would keep you from becoming a permanent resident.

The Green Card Backlog

The EB-2 NIW Category historically is backlogged for people born in China or India usually meaning that an individual who was born in those two countries has a long wait before they can apply for a green card. The reality of the backlog also means that individuals who apply for the NIW cannot apply for work and travel authorization because there is no green card available to them. If you are from India or China and would like to apply for an NIW or another EB-2 category, you will need to make sure that you remain in valid visa status that will allow you to live and work in the US until a green card becomes available. To avoid the long wait times of the backlog, the EB-1 categories are attractive because during most parts of the year an applicant born in China or India can apply for a green card and work and travel authorization at the same time as the I-140 EB-1 petition.The fiscal year for the new inventory of green card starts every October 1.

To Avoid the Backlog, Can I Use the Citizenship of my Spouse?

USCIS allows you to use the doctrine of cross chargeability to adopt the country of birth of your spouse to avoid the backlog, meaning that citizens born in China or India may use the country of birth of their spouse to obtain an immediately available green card as long as the spouse was not born in China or India. Using cross chargeability this means that an a person born in China or India could use the citizenship of their spouse who was born in e.g. Japan to apply for an NIW.

Can I Apply for an Employment Based Green Card from any Status?

Clients ask us all the time, “Do I have to wait to get an H-1B before applying for a green card?” You don’t need an H-1B, but if you can obtain one prior to filing your case, you may save yourself a lot of trouble because the H-1B and L1 statuses allow you to travel outside the US while your green card is pending without your application being deemed abandoned. This is one of the most common questions that we get asked. The answer is not that simple, but for the purposes of this post, it is recommended that you consult an experienced immigration attorney before starting the adjustment of status process. For a simple answer, if you do not have a criminal record, arrests, prior visa overstays or removals from the US, and you are in a valid visa status that is not a visitor visa or ESTA or a J visa subject to 212(e) you could be eligible to adjust your status in the US. Casseus Law has successfully represented individuals in the following statuses obtain permanent residence:

  • F-1: Many PhDs go straight form F-1 to a green card without a problem
  • H-1B: The nice thing about the H-1B and H-4 is that you are able to leave the US once the green card is filed without the risk of the green card application being deemed abandoned for leaving the US without obtaining a travel document
  • TN: Common among Mexican and Canadian scientists in industry position. Yes, they can successfully transition to a green card in the US.
  • J-1: You can go from a J-1 to a green card as long as you ensure that you are filing your I-485 90 days after the renewal of your visa or 90 days after your last entry to the US in J-1 visa status to avoid issues of immigrant intent when entering on a non-immigrant visa type. If your J visa is subject to the 212(e) two-year home rule, you will need to obtain a waiver before applying for a green card.
  • O-1: Some postdocs working for institutes go from J visas to O-1s to help them stay in status and work while they are waiting for the approval of their J waivers.
  • L and E visas: Not a common status for a postdocs, but we have assisted individuals in these status transition to a green card.
  • If your status doesn't allow you to file your green card in the US, you will have to consular process your green card outside of the US.

What is the 212(e) Two Year Home Rule?

Individuals on J-1 and J-2 visas that are subject to the 2 year home rule requirement will need to either obtain a waiver or return to their country of residence or citizenship for two years before applying for US permanent resident status. Depending on why you were subject to 212(e) it is recommended that you speak with an attorney before starting the green card process.

How Long is it Taking to get a Permanent Residence Green Card?

This is the number one question that my clients ask me. Everyone wants to know how long it takes to get the green card. It depends on a number of factors including your country of birth, whether you have a criminal record and whether your immigration officer reviewing your case is a meticulous person who likes to move their cases along. As of the date of this writing, The conservative answer one year to 16 months. To give you an inside look as to how long it is taking Casseus Law clients, I provide you with four different cases.

Client 1: Casseus Law filed a National Interest Waiver I-140 and I- 485 Application to Adjust to Permanent Residence Status (green card) for our PhD researcher on October 16, 2017, our client received her green card approval on March 15, 2018 and her physical green card on March 23, 2018 through the US Post Office. This client was extremely lucky. The Texas Service Center approved her I-140 in one month and her case smoothly moved from the Texas Service Center where all cases from Massachusetts are adjudicated to the National Benefits Center where in February she was scheduled for a green card interview at the Boston USCIS office.

Client 2: Casseus Law filed an EB-1A case with a concurrently filed green card for a PhD researcher on May 30, 2017, her green card was approved on February 5, 2018 with a green card interview.

Client 3: Casseus Law filed an EB-1A self-sponsored petition for a PhD researcher from India on January 9, 2018. Her EB-1A case was approved on January 16, 2018 through Premium Processing (for an extra fee of 1225 paid to the US Department of Homeland Security, USCIS will review your case in 15 calendar days. PP only available to EB-1 category cases). The client is still waiting for her green card interview.

Client 4: Casseus Law filed an NIW I-140 for a client on August 1, 2017, he was scheduled for his green card interview on May 1, 2018.

How Long is it Taking Individuals to Obtain their Green Cards?

The estimated time period to receive your 10-year green card through the US adjustment of status process can take anywhere from 8 to 24 months. Below is a sample infographic of steps involved in the process. Processing times and steps will vary on an individual basis.

How Can I Check how long Cases are Taking?

Each service center has a ballpark estimation of how long it is taking them to process cases. You can use this link to see how long cases are taking.

What Documents do I need to Compile a Successful Visa or NIW, EB-1A, EB-1B Employment Based Green Card Case?

  • Evidence that your work has benefitted and contributed to your field
  • Ph.D. Diploma or Masters, if diploma earned outside of the US, obtain a credentials review from a company. Casseus Law uses
  • Doctoral Thesis (Abstract)
  • Employment Letter from current job
  • Curriculum Vitae
  • Google Scholar Citations Report
  • Publications: Peer-Reviewed Papers, Book Chapters any proof of publications
  • Honors & Awards
  • Evidence of leading or critical role on a project
  • Judging the work of others by performing peer review, judging competitions, etc.
  • Conference Presentations
  • Grants awarded to you or your PI showing your involvement
  • US Government grants that you are working under NIH, USDA, DARPA,
  • Invited Talks, Seminars
  • Evidence of Teaching
  • Media about you and your work

What Documents do I need to Submit with my Form 485?

It is recommended that you compile the documents that apply to you before starting the permanent residence process.

  • Birth Certificate & Translation
  • Marriage Certificate
  • Proof of Divorce for any Prior Marriage
  • Passport Biographical Page (Inside Front & Back Cover Pages)
  • I-94 & Travel History you can access this online here
  • All US Visas from All Passports
  • Current or Past J-visa Holders: All DS-2019 Forms (Certificate of Eligibility for Exchange Visitor)
  • If subject to 212(e) J-Waiver from US Dept. of State, if Applicable
  • Current or Past F-visa Holders: All I-20 Forms (Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant (F-1) Student Status)
  • Current or Past H-1B Holders: All 797A Approval Notices
  • Historical US Immigration Approval Notices, Certificate of Eligibility or Other Form Provided by Your School, SEVIS, Employer or USCIS Granting or Evidencing Your Legal Status or Work Authorization in the US
  • All EAD (Work Authorization) Cards and Form I-765 Approval Notices, if Applicable (Often Applies to F-1, non-academic H-1Bs)
  • Past 3 years of U.S. Federal Tax Return & W-2s
  • Driver's License or State ID
  • Social Security Card
  • 6 Passport Sized Pictures-Taken Within 6 Months of Filing
  • Medical Exam with a USCIS Civil Surgeon - IMPORTANT because medical exams are only valid for one year and need to be as recent as possible given the fact that the average green card can take 8-16 months to be approved wait until your green card interview is scheduled to obtain your medical exam

What is the Most Important Aspect of a Visa or Green Card Case?

Strong Letters of Support

Your Expert Letters of support can mean that your case gets approved, denied or a Request for Further Evidence (RFE) Letters of support are the only opportunity that you are given to present your expertise and impact on your field from the point of view of experts in your field. Please remember, this is not a job reference letter. This letter should cover topics such as - what fundamental principles have you discovered and what your current research goal is and why your work has impacted your field (i.e. finding vaccines for deadly disease, building algorithms to program self-driving cars, tissue engineering for organ replacement). In addition to presenting your expert skills your letter should include technical information followed by a plain language explanation of that work.

How Many Support Letters do I Need?

For O-1 visa and NIW, EB-1A and EB-1B cases, Casseus Law recommends 6-8 letters. For these recommendations, select a mix of experts including 2 dependents – people who have worked with you i.e. your current PI and Ph.D. or Masters PI. The remaining letters should be from independent people who have not worked with you directly or collaborated on a project where they provided you with feedback or mentorship. The platinum standard for an independent expert is someone who has cited your work. Immigration assigns more weight to experts in your field who have not directly worked or collaborated with you, but have used your work to advance their own work.

How Many Citations do I need to be Eligible for a Green Card?

Citations are evidence that your peers in the field have referenced your work (sum of all articles, conferences, books, etc. Some fields may give an individual the opportunity to have more citations than others. All researchers interested in a green card should create a Google Scholar profile or Web of Science page to aggregate their published work. This will help you see where you fall in terms of citations. For researchers especially, you need to show how your citations highlight your impact on your field as a whole. I am sure that you have heard this before, but do not include self-citations as they do not show your influence on the field.

A Special Note on Peer Review

Participating in the scientific review process as a reviewer as proof of your judging the work of others in the field criteria is becoming the norm for National Interest Waivers, EB-1A, and EB-1B applications. Performing peer review at the request of your supervisor is not considered peer review. The peer review request must be directed to you specifically. You must also complete the peer review for it to be counted as proof of judging. Merely being asked to perform is not enough. Casseus Law suggests that if you are not already reviewing papers that you should start contacting journal editors to request to be a reviewer. Proactivity is very important in this case. You can still assist your PI in the peer review process, but remember you cannot use it as documentary evidence for your case – the invitation to be a peer reviewer needs to be addressed to your own personal email directly. Many journals now have a process where you can register that you are available to act as a reviewer. You can find these opportunities online.

Some resources:

What Steps can I take now to start the Visa or Green Card Process?

  1. Update your CV and bio sketch whenever you have new accomplishments to add.
  2. Obtain copies and translations of documents that are not in English.
  3. Create a Google Scholar account
  4. Sanitize your LinkedIn, Facebook profile, online presence (if you need to). Immigration does not want people to be affiliated with groups they deem not in line with democracy.
  5. Save copies of papers, awards, presentations, in .pdf format.
  6. Last but not least, NETWORK! Networking is extremely important for candidates during a job search and it is even more critical for international candidates. Being able to “put a face to a name” will help a candidate get looked at and should help facilitate the interview process. I often suggest to international candidates that they should join their relevant associations/groups. These candidates should also join professional organizations and attend the annual conferences – i.e. Society for Neuroscience for Neuroscientists to network with other members during the poster sessions, panels, exhibit floor, etc. These are wonderful opportunities to build relationships and connect with people who could be beneficial during a career search.


Casseus Law performs free online credential reviews to determine if you meet the NIW, EB-1(A) or (B) requirements. Send your CV, Google Scholar Report, and a brief summary of your work including your contributions to your field to


About Casseus Law

Rachel Casseus, Esq. is the Founder and Managing Attorney of Casseus Law a technology-driven business immigration practice focused on advising individuals and companies with their immigration needs including permanent residence visas and work authorization and citizenship.To date, Casseus Law has maintained 100% approval on all visa and permanent resident applications including EB-1A, EB-1B, National Interest Waiver (NIW) green cards and non-immigrant visas. Casseus Law has advised and worked with hundreds of foreign national researchers, entrepreneurs and businesses including technology and pharma start-ups. Casseus Law has worked with researchers from institutions including, but not limited to: Harvard, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Dana Farber, Stanford, IBM, Tufts University, Delft University of Technology and Virginia Tech.

Contributed by Rachel Casseus, Esq. and Tony Cijsouw, PhD