Persuasive, strong reference letters from experts in your field is something that can “make or break” an NIW petition. Expert letters for an NIW petition are very different from a typical reference letter or recommendation letter for a job. There are three key aspects that an expert should keep in mind when preparing a letter for an NIW applicant:
1. Set out the most compelling aspects of the expert’s own credentials.
An effective expert letter would start by laying out details about the expert’s own education, experience, and recognition in the field as a leader, which makes the opinions shared in the letter credible. It is also a best practice to include a detailed curriculum vitae (CV) of the expert with the letter. Simply saying “I am a leading expert” will not be sufficient; a persuasive letter will cite specific examples of how this expert has been recognized, such as names of awards the expert received, number of publications, citations, and H-index if the expert is an academic, leadership positions the expert has held in professional associations and leading corporations, media appearances, etc.
2. Link the applicant’s “proposed endeavor” to broad, industry-wide impacts, to support “national importance.”
A persuasive expert letter will explain how the applicant’s “proposed endeavor” – the work the applicant proposes to do in the United States if their permanent residency application is granted – will impact his or her field more broadly, as opposed to only benefitting the applicant’s immediate clients and partners.
This is commonly done through discussing how the proposed endeavor stands to improve existing methodologies used in the field. The key is “innovation.”
Another strategy is to emphasize how the applicant’s work specifically will result in substantial positive economic impact. High numbers of expected job creation from the applicant’s business, high volumes of tax revenues generated by an applicant’s business, and other examples of positive economic effect, quantified with specific numbers, will be helpful to establish that the applicant’s work not only benefits their immediate clients, but will have a broader impact that can properly be considered “national importance.”
3. Cite Specific examples of applicant’s successful prior projects, and their impacts, to support “well positioned.”
In many cases where a petition was ultimately approved, specific examples were provided in expert letters of how the applicant’s work affected his or her field. A good way to think about this is presenting mini-case studies about your previous projects. Each example should tell a story, be sufficiently developed (1-2 paragraphs) and discuss what the applicant did for a particular project, how they did it differently, and the successful results from that project.
The importance of including specific examples cannot be overemphasized. Often in Request for Evidences (RFE) or Notices of Intent to Deny (NOID), the government will push back on conclusory or general statements. For example, it is not enough to just say, “the applicant has significantly advanced the field of cybersecurity through their work.” Rather, the government is looking for a specific example of a particular project the applicant led (with details such as the entities involved, the name of the product developed, the names of patents or papers published as a result of the project, for example), and an explanation of specifically how this project improved the status quo of the industry. When presenting these examples, it is helpful to try and answer questions like the following:
- What kind of positive interest has this work generated among industry actors?
Citations to applicant’s research output is a classic example of this positive interest. Features in the media about the applicant or the project also shows positive interest. Funding by organizations to pursue this work can also indicate positive interest.
- Has this development (or research) been implemented by others in the field?
If an applicant developed a new product or technology, showing contracts (such as licensing agreements) with other entities that utilized this product or technology is a great way to show that the fruits of this work was used in practice. For example, if an applicant designed a part of a computer chip that was installed in a smartphone device that was widely commercialized, it is a good idea to include specific details about the scale and extent of such commercialization.
- How does the applicant’s work otherwise reflect a record of success or progress?
There are many ways an applicant can persuade the examining officer that his or her prior achievements constitute a “record of success” or something that represents “progress” in the field as a whole. For example, an applicant could have identified a limitation or problem that many experts were facing in a particular sector, and developed a solution to this problem, improving the industry’s best practices as a result. Such solutions could have been shared with others through presentations in industry conferences, publications of papers or articles, or through media interviews.
In conclusion, expert letters submitted with an NIW petition play a key role in determining the petition’s strength. It is very important to include the right level of specific examples and details about the expert, the applicant’s proposed endeavor, and applicant’s prior successful projects, and avoid conclusory or general language.
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