Becoming a U.S. green card holder is a goal shared by many immigrants. There are dozens of ways you can qualify for permanent resident status. One immigration pathway that tends to be overlooked is self-petitioned employment-based green cards. These paths allow you to apply for a green card based on your professional achievements and proposed future work without requiring a U.S. company to support the process.
Self-petitioned green cards are popular amongst entrepreneurs, mainly because it can be challenging to apply for employer-sponsored green cards as a founder. It's also possible for accomplished professionals who don't yet have a U.S. job offer to become U.S. permanent residents through self-petitioning.
Self-Petitioned Green Cards Overview
A U.S. company typically sponsors employment-based green cards. The company pays the filing fees, acts as your official sponsor, and typically employs you through the green card process. If you don't have a U.S. employer, are self-employed, or your company is unwilling to sponsor employee green cards, you may need to find another way to obtain permanent residency.
One alternative is to apply for a self-sponsored immigrant visa, also called a self-petitioned green card. Two employment-based immigrant visas are eligible for self-petitioning: the EB-1A and EB-2 National Interest Waiver (NIW). Let's explore these options, their differences, and how you can qualify.
EB-1A vs EB-2 NIW
The EB-1A and EB-2 NIW are immigrant visas that essentially get you a "spot in line" to file a green card application. They do not give you employment authorization on their own, but they are an essential step if you want to become a lawful permanent resident (LPR). Make sure you understand the green card process.
Two main differences between the EB-1A and EB-2 NIW? The eligibility requirements and the overall time.
First, let's explore the eligibility requirements for each visa category.
To qualify for the EB-1A, you must have either received a major, internationally recognized award such as a Nobel Prize, or you can qualify by meeting a minimum of three EB-1A extraordinary ability criteria:
- You received nationally or internationally recognized prizes or awards in the field
- You are a member of associations in the field that require outstanding achievement
- There is published material about you in professional publications, major trade publications, or other major media
- You have judged the work of others in the field, either individually or on a panel
- You have made original contributions of major significance to the field
- You have authored scholarly articles in professional publications, major trade publications, or other major media
- You have served in a leading or critical role for distinguished organizations
- You command a high salary or other significantly high remuneration
- Your work has been displayed at artistic exhibitions or showcases
- You have demonstrated commercial successes in the performing arts
In addition to satisfying the EB-1A criteria, you must pass a final merit test. After reviewing your entire EB-1A petition, the USCIS officer will determine whether or not your petition shows that you have "sustained national or international acclaim." This test is entirely subjective, but a qualified immigration attorney can help you determine whether or not you have enough evidence to pass the test.
EB-2 National Interest Waiver Eligibility
The EB-2 NIW requirements can be broken down into two parts. The first is the general eligibility requirements, and the second is the NIW three-prong test.
EB-2 NIW General Eligibility Requirements
You must fall into one of five categories:
1: You have a U.S. Master's degree or higher
2: You have the foreign equivalent of a U.S. Master's degree or higher
3: You have a U.S. Bachelor's degree AND five years of progressive work experience
4: You have the foreign equivalent of a U.S. U.S. Bachelor's degree AND five years of progressive work experience
5: You meet three or more EB-2 exceptional ability criteria
The National Interest Waiver Three-Prong Test
EB-2 NIW applicants must pass the three-prong test. To pass, you must submit evidence to USCIS that satisfies three prongs:
Prong 1: Your proposed endeavor has substantial merit and national importance
Prong 2: You are well-positioned to advance the proposed endeavor
Prong 3: On balance, it would be beneficial to the United States to waive the requirements of the PERM labor certification
Read our detailed guide about the NIW prongs to understand how to satisfy each of them.
EB1A vs EB-2 NIW Timelines
A significant difference between these two visa categories is their timelines. There are several factors to consider, including:
- Visa processing times: EB-1A and EB-2 NIW each have different processing times. USCIS tends to take longer to review EB-2 NIW petitions. You can review average processing times on the USCIS website for an up-to-date estimate.
- Premium processing: As of 2023, both the EB-1A and EB-2 NIW are eligible for premium processing. When filed with an extra fee and a premium processing request, USCIS will review EB-1As in 15 days and EB-2 NIWs in 45 days.
- RFE rates: Requests for Additional Evidence (RFEs) can slow down the overall immigration process regardless of which immigrant visa you're filing. However, EB-1As tend to get more RFEs compared to EB-2 NIWs.
- Preference level: Whether you file an EB-1A or EB-2 NIW can impact how quickly you can submit your adjustment of status application for review. The EB-1 is a first-preference immigrant visa, and the EB-2 NIW is a second-preference immigrant visa. Generally, you can file a green card more quickly with an EB-1A priority date. Ensure you understand the visa bulletin to know how your preference level may impact your immigration timeline.
Find your immigration team
Now that you understand how to self-petition your green card, it's time to find your immigration team. It's essential to work with experts who know the ins and outs of immigration law and have experience with self-petitioned visa applications. We recommend working with an immigration service provider who can walk you through every step—from work visas to becoming a U.S. citizen.