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Case Study: How can an environmental engineer prepare a winning NIW application?

Environmental engineers

Especially with the updates in the USCIS policy manual in 2022, applicants with a Masters or Ph.D. degree in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM) are encouraged to consider the EB2 National Interest Waiver (NIW) pathway to a green card in the United States. The key to preparing a successful NIW application is to provide sufficient and persuasive evidence that an applicant’s endeavor will result in broader benefits to the field and have national importance; that an applicant is well positioned to do this work; and on balance, the US will benefit from exempting the applicant from the ordinary requirements for a labor certification.

Then how does a winning NIW application look like in practice for a recent graduate in STEM? This post will discuss an example of what forms of evidence were most helpful in meeting the three NIW criteria for an environmental researcher.

1. Substantial merit and national importance

The Petitioner had a Ph.D. in civil engineering with a concentration in environmental engineering. Petitioner was employed as an Environmental Consultant with a research institution, where Petitioner performed review and statistical analysis of nutrients in surface water. Petitioner proposed to continue their work in environmental science, including developing frameworks incorporating experimental techniques, statistical models, and life cycle assessment analysis for solid waste and wastewater treatment, develop models to obtain products from solid waste treatment, and optimization of wastewater treatment using membrane technology.

Expert letters confirmed the Petitioner’s research on treatment methods for solid waste could allow stakeholders to harness solid waste for a wider variety of purposes. Reference letters confirmed Petitioner’s work has and will continue to benefit the broader scientific community by adding to the knowledge of wastewater treatment technology and the design of membranes for that purpose. Notably, Petitioner’s previous research had been supported by, or done in collaboration with, the US Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service’s programs on waste treatment. Relying on these pieces of evidence, the AAO found that Petitioner’s proposed endeavor had substantial merit and national importance.

2. Well positioned to advance the endeavor

Petitioner’s possession of a Ph.D. degree with a specialization in environmental engineering showed that Petitioner had the necessary education to advance this work. Petitioner also submitted copies of peer-reviewed research papers and evidence relating to other researchers’ citations to these papers, as well as proof of having served as a peer reviewer for scholarly journals in the field. Reference letters from independent researchers who had not personally worked with Petitioner confirmed how Petitioner’s models were necessary and helpful to supporting follow-on research projects, which were integral to such projects’ success. For example, researchers acknowledged that Petitioner’s work helped to create clear guidelines on how best to optimize the wastewater treatment process.

Given Petitioner’s education, record of published work and influence on the work of others in Petitioner’s field, the AAO found that Petitioner was well positioned to advance the proposed endeavor.

3. On balance, beneficial to the United States

Referring to the first prong, the AAO noted Petitioner’s research on the treatment of solid waste and water quality had the potential to provide “widespread benefits to the United States” in terms of reduction of waste, development of reusable energy, and prediction of harmful algae blooms. Referring to the second prong, the AAO noted Petitioner’s education, experience, and record of success in related research positioned Petitioner well to advance them. Based on this, the AAO concluded that Petitioner offered contributions of such value that, on balance, they would benefit the United States even assuming that other qualified U.S. workers were available.


Applying for a green card is a significant step. Attorneys at Scott Legal have deep experience assisting applicants throughout the journey, which can take multiple years, and provide well informed strategy, support, and guidance at every step. To learn more, please check out our free resources below. You can also schedule a consultation with one of our lawyers to discuss your case in more detail.


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