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How to overcome a small publication and citation count as a STEM researcher for an NIW petition?

STEM researcher

A recent AAO appeals opinion from January 2023 discusses an NIW green card petition by a mechanical engineer who had a relatively small publication record (5 publications and 5 presentations), which provides helpful insights and guidance on how an applicant can strengthen their case despite these smaller numbers.

The Petitioner in this case was a mechanical engineer with a Masters degree in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics). The Petitioner’s proposed endeavor was to conduct research on ocean energy conversion devices in order to implement vortex-induced vibration for energy generation from ocean and river currents. Both USCIS and AAO found this research endeavor had both substantial merit and national importance.

The challenge was proving that the Petitioner was “well positioned” to do this work. The Petitioner emphasized that his possession of an advanced STEM degree should be considered as an especially positive factor. The AAO agreed, but maintained a degree in and of itself was not sufficient to render the applicant well positioned.

What additional evidence could have made the petitioner’s case more compelling? The case discusses three points:

1. Having played a leading role in research projects is key

The Petitioner submitted evidence that he had participated in research projects that had received government funding. However, the government was not satisfied that this in itself was evidence that Petitioner was well positioned to advance the proposed endeavor. To be persuasive, there must be evidence that the Petitioner played a determinative role in establishing or controlling the direction of the research, not merely having assisted or simply been involved in research projects where the Petitioner did not personally secure the funding or was listed on the grants as the primary researcher.

2. Numbers are not dispositive; narrative is important

The Petitioner also submitted evidence of a small number of publication of his research in journals and citation of this work by others. Notably, the government found that evidence of citation to his prior research, on its own, was insufficient to constitute a record of success in the field. Rather, the Petitioner must show how his previous research makes him well positioned to advance his proposed research. For example, Petitioner could have described his progress towards achieving the goals of the proposed research, and explain how his past research constitutes a record of success in similar endeavors as the proposed project. Petitioner could also have included stronger evidence that showed generation of interest among relevant parties on Petitioner’s work, such as a definitive letter of intent to allocate time and resources towards Petitioner’s project.

3. Include expert letters that describe how the Petitioner’s work has been implemented, utilized, or applauded at a broad level.

Another piece of evidence that could have helped the Petitioner’s case was including an explanation or indication in the expert letters describing how Petitioner’s work had been implemented, utilized, or applauded at a level that would well position him to advance his proposed endeavor. Although the letters contained a general discussion of Petitioner’s research and the fact that Petitioner’s papers had been cited in the referees’ own research, there was insufficient explanation on how this represented an impetus for progress on the field, or that it had generated substantial positive discourse.


Although all research projects add information to the general pool of knowledge in some way to be published, funded, or gain academic credit, this does not automatically mean the researcher would be well positioned to advance the proposed endeavor.

Instead, a clear and detailed narrative of the impact of Petitioner’s research is needed to make the connection between an individual’s previous work and proposed endeavor.

Attorneys at Scott Legal can help applicants navigate complexities like this and many more to maximize the strengths of their NIW case. To find out more, check out the related posts below or schedule a consultation with one of our experienced attorneys.

Related posts:

Guide to a “winning” expert letter

NIW strategy – How specific does your proposed endeavor have to be?

Engineer without papers or patents – how to qualify for NIW?

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