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The Devil is in the Details – How to Prove Your Work Is Of “National Importance” for STEM and Entrepreneur applicants

A woman working in a research lab

Although the Biden Administration has promulgated new guidelines this year that favor STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) graduates in assessing national interest waiver (NIW) petitions, proving your work is of “national importance” is still a challenge for most.

In fact, USCIS continues to issue request for evidences (RFEs) and denials even to applicants who have graduated with advanced STEM degrees and who propose to continue working in their STEM fields. This is why it is important to retain an experienced lawyer who knows the difference between a risky case and a strong case even among STEM professionals in the same field.

You may be surprised to hear that many of the RFEs and denials challenge a STEM or entrepreneur applicant’s case on “national importance” grounds, even though generally it will clearly serve the national interest for the U.S. to retain STEM professionals and to stimulate entrepreneurial activity in the U.S.

To minimize these risks of RFEs and denials, it is critical to identify and emphasize details from your career that could persuade USCIS that your work offers broad impacts that merit a finding of “national importance.” Here are some strategies that could help.

1. Prepare a specific, detailed, and well thought-out “statement of proposed endeavor” that explains how your work will introduce advancements to your industry as a whole, and explain why your specific work will serve the national interest.

You will see this language often in an RFE that challenges a petition on national importance grounds: “in determining national importance, the relevant question is not the importance of the industry or profession in which the individual will work. Instead, we focus on the specific endeavor that the foreign national proposes to undertake.”

For example, let us assume a petitioner only proposes that he or she will work as a pilot in the US and provide evidence that the US is facing a shortage of pilots. This will likely trigger an RFE, because it is not enough to show the importance of the industry or profession. The Petitioner must explain how the specific work they will be doing will have broad enough impacts to a national level.

To do so, it is important to submit a personal statement that describes the specific project you will be advancing in the US and how it will have a nation-wide impact in your field more broadly. For example, you could identify deficiencies in current approaches of addressing a specific problem in your field, propose how you will develop a new approach that remedies these limitations, and explain how you will disseminate this to allow other experts in your field to benefit from this new development.

2. Submit evidence of significant industry and government interest in your work, either with respect to your past projects or your proposed project.

Evidence of participating in research projects that has received government funding, for example, is a small detail that could strengthen your case. Interest from peers in your field can be shown in many ways – commonly through citations of your papers and patents, but also through other types of evidence such as invitations to speak at conferences, e-mail correspondence, invitation to appear on media outlets and speak about your work, offers to invest in or collaborate with your venture, etc. The more prestigious and established these entities are that express interest, the more helpful it will be in supporting that your work is of “national importance.”

3. Entrepreneur applicants should submit support behind job creation and revenue projections so that they are more than just “conjecture.”

USCIS can be reluctant to rely on job-creation and revenue projections to find “national importance” if there is insufficient information to persuade them why these projections are reasonable. For example, if an entrepreneur applicant’s enterprise has been operating for some time, corporate tax returns and payroll information that show significant growth rates of revenues and hiring can support projection of future growth at a similar rate. The number of jobs to be created must also be significant, and the location of the jobs and interested parties must be specified so that USCIS can determine if the enterprise will create employment benefits in an underserved community.

4. Avoid conclusory and general statements in expert letters and personal statement. Add as much details as possible on your unique contributions and their impact.

Filling the application with conclusory and general statements, without supporting details, is a very common mistake that will result in USCIS discrediting your file. Cases often note, “generalized conclusory statements that do not identify a specific impact in the field have little probative value.”

In a recent case, the administrative appeals office commented on expert letters that stated the Petitioner, an investment manager, offered a “unique methodology” in negotiating foreign direct investment that could impact the United States. However, the letter did not provide enough detail on what this unique methodology was.

To be effective, the letter should have included the following details:

  • Sufficient explanation of what Petitioner’s unique methodology is.
  • How Petitioner is credited for the development of the methodology.
  • How the methodology differs from other methods used in the field.
  • Whether others in the industry know about and use this methodology.
  • How did this development create a new understanding of the issues surrounding investment.
  • If this development had any effect outside the parties to the transaction.
  • Evidence that others in the field or industry would know about and benefit from the Petitioner’s developments such that the Petitioner’s work would constitute achievements and significant contributions to the industry or field.

In conclusion, it is important to note that not all STEM or entrepreneur endeavors will be persuasive to USCIS to rise to the level of national importance. To maximize the chances of approval of an NIW green card petition, the applicant must take care to identify and present sufficient details on how his or her specific work will “impact the United States at a level commensurate with national importance.”


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