Join our Global Mobility Summit on May 29 Register Now

How to Strengthen Your Employment-Based Green Card Profile

A Guide For Startup Founders

There are quite a few different ways to get a green card based on your employment, but most non-resident entrepreneurs end up going with one of two options: the EB-1A or EB-2 NIW. Did you know that there are actionable steps you can take now to strengthen your profile for each of these immigrant petitions?

permanent residency

Introduction: The EB-1A and EB-2 NIW for Startup Founders 

It is no secret that people around the world desire the advantages of the American green card. The green card grants permanent residence to recipients, allowing them many of the same benefits U.S. citizenspossess. For example, green card holders can work for any U.S. company. The green card also gets them on track to eventually becoming an American citizen. 

In this article, we discuss the EB-1A and EB-2 NIW. They are both employment-based petitions that get qualified foreign nationals a “spot in line” to file their green card application. If you are not familiar with the green card process, we recommend that you check out some of our other business immigration resources.

How To Strengthen your EB2 NIW Profile As A Startup Founder

The EB-2 NIW criteria may seem complicated at first. Let's break down each qualification and detail how you can strengthen your profile.

Part 1: Advanced Degree or Exceptional Ability

There are three ways you can meet this qualification:

  1. Having a U.S. Master's degree (or the foreign equivalent); or
  2. Having a U.S. Bachelor's degree (or the foreign equivalent); or
  3. Meeting three or more of the six Exceptional Ability Criteria

The most straightforward way to qualify is by having an MBA or other U.S. Master's degree, or a Bachelor's degree plus five years of work experience post-graduation. 

However, if you don't have a qualifying Advanced Degree, you can qualify with three or more Exceptional Ability criteria. Here are a few ways you can add more Exceptional Ability criteria:

  • Join a professional organization: There are many associations you can join. Think about professional associations like IEEE, Forbes Business Council, or On Deck. Participation in startup accelerators like Y Combinator, Techstars, or 500 Startups could also help you satisfy this criterion.
  • Gain more “recognition” from peers, government entities, or professional organizations: Does this sound vague? Yes? Well, that is because the criterion is vague. Thankfully, this means that you can go in many directions with it. Do you have plans to raise V.C. funding? That could work here. Government grants? Even better! You can also use press articles about your work, partnerships, awards, and more. As you gain traction around your startup, you should naturally meet this criterion.
  • Find a way to earn a higher salary: USCIS is not specific on what constitutes a high salary in the context of the EB-2 NIW. However, working towards earning increased compensation can put you ahead for meeting this criterion in the future. 

If you want to learn more, we have resources focused on Exceptional Ability for the EB-2 NIW.

Part 2: National Interest Waiver

In addition to having an Advanced Degree or Exceptional Ability, you must qualify for the National Interest Waiver (NIW). You are eligible for the NIW by meeting all of the following three criteria: 

  1. Your proposed work in the U.S. has Substantial Merit and National Importance 
  2. You are well-positioned to advance—or succeed with—your future plans
  3. It is beneficial for the U.S. to waive the PERM labor certification process

In other words, USCIS wants to see that you have plans to positively benefit the U.S.—and you have the ability to carry out those plans. 

Here are some ways you can strengthen your NIW qualifications now:

  • Develop a business plan that clearly shows how your work impacts the U.S. socially, economically, technologically, etc.
  • Obtain the funding needed to carry out your business plan. Think V.C. funding, government grants, etc.
  • Attract new customers and partners, especially big-name brands that USCIS will know. This will show how you are already impacting the U.S. economy
  • Hire a talented team that will help you accomplish your business goals

Ultimately, the best way to strengthen your EB-2 NIW profile will depend on the type of work you're doing. If you'd like to talk to a startup immigration expert about your unique EB-2 NIW case, contact Legalpad.

How To Strengthen your EB1 Profile As A Startup Founder

The EB-1A is the most difficult immigrant petition to get approved. However, an EB-1A approval is far from impossible! If you would like to apply for an EB-1 in the future, it is wise to work on strengthening your profile ahead of time. 

There are ten EB-1A criteria. You need to meet three to qualify; however, given how highly scrutinized the EB-1 is, it is best to qualify for more than three criteria. Here are a few things you can do now as a startup founder to increase your chances of an EB-1 approval later on. 

  • Sit on judging panels, or review academic papers: 

You can strengthen your profile by judging numerous professional events in your field. As a startup founder, this might look like sitting on a judging panel at hackathons.

If you have a scientific background that relates to your startup, you could strengthen this criterion by reviewing academic papers. 

You can work towards meeting this criterion by reaching out to your contacts who might run hackathons or other events requiring professional judges, or your contacts at academic journals. If you are new to your industry, a great way to grow your network is to join professional associations. As a member, you will likely meet with people that can connect you with judging opportunities. As an added bonus, this may help you meet another EB-1 criterion (see below).

  • Get significant press articles written about you

To meet the judging criteria, you'll need to show that there are numerous major media articles published about you. Rather than being only about your startup, the article should be focused on you as a professional. 

Ideally, these articles would be in prominent, reputable publications like the New York Times, CNN, Forbes, Times of India, Nasdaq, TechCrunch, etc. 

Maybe you have a friend who is a journalist, or perhaps there is a reporter who wrote about your company at some point. Consider reaching out to your contacts about writing an article about you.

  • Join highly selective professional associations

While the EB-2 NIW Exceptional Ability membership criterion requires that you be a professional association member, the EB-1A criterion is a bit more nuanced. 

To strengthen your profile, research memberships in your field and look into highly competitive associations you might be able to apply for.

  • Author scholarly articles: 

If you come from an academic or scientific background, you might consider writing some peer-reviewed articles. 

If peer-reviewed articles are not an option for you, there are still some ways you can strengthen your profile with this criterion! You can write articles for general business media outlets, like Forbes, or outlets specific to your field. The more reputable the outlet, the better.

  • Become a “critical employee” of a “distinguished” company

If you're already working for your startup in an executive role, you should meet the first part of this criterion—being a critical employee. 

The challenge will be showing you meet the second part of the criteria—your company has a distinguished reputation. It takes a lot to show that a company has a distinguished reputation in the context of the EB1, but it's not impossible! 

Bringing in substantial revenue, working with Fortune 500 companies, hiring hundreds or thousands of employees, and reaching unicorn status are just a few ways a company might establish its distinguished reputation. 

It's also possible to strengthen your profile with this criterion by being critically employed by another distinguished company. Can you land a V.P. or C-Suite role at a highly successful company? That could be a way to show you meet this criterion.

  • Gain significant traction with your inventions

To meet this criterion, you need to invent something and show that what you created has significantly impacted your field. 

You could strengthen your profile with this criterion by patenting technology that has become widely used. Or perhaps you create a novel app that becomes a top downloaded app in the App Store or the Google Play Store. 

Another way to meet this criterion might be by inventing a new product at an already successful company. 

  • Increase your salary and other earnings

With this criterion, USCIS is looking for the top 1% of earners in a given role. This is often a challenging criterion for startup founders to meet due to limited funding. However, you may meet it in roles at previous companies or by being paid out equity.

  • Win internationally recognized awards

Strengthening your awards criterion can happen by, well, receiving awards. The best way to meet this criterion is by researching highly competitive awards in your field and trying to win them. Examples of internationally recognized awards include awards sponsored by the United Nations or the World Economic Forum


Some founders need to dedicate a little more time to building a strong EB-1 or EB-2 NIW profile. However, many founders already qualify! If you find yourself wondering about the best time to file your application, reach out to Legalpad’s immigration team. 

About the author:

Annie Blay

Content Marketing Specialist

Before joining the marketing team, Annie helped over 60 Legalpad clients navigate U.S. immigration on the client services team.