National Interest Waiver

At the end of the 2016 calendar year, the Administrative Appeals Office (AAO) published a welcome precedent decision, Matter of Dhanasar, 26 I&N Dec. 884 (AAO 2016).  In this case, the AAO has significantly revised the framework for evaluating National Interest Waiver (NIW)-based immigrant visa petitions that had been established in 1998 in Matter of New York State Dep’t of Transp.. (NYSDOT).

Because the NIW route to permanent residence (green card) status avoids the labor certification process (which involves testing the U.S. labor market and proving to the U.S. Department of Labor that there are no U.S. workers, able, willing, qualified and available for the job in question) and allows a foreign national to petition for himself or herself (or to have an employer petition on his or her behalf), it is an attractive immigration option for those who qualify.  However, the adjudication standard set in the NYSDOT case was confusing and restrictive, and deterred many people from utilizing this immigration category as a pathway to achieving lawful permanent residence status.

Matter of Dhanasar breathes new life into this green card category.

Under INA §203(b)(2)(B)(i),  USCIS may grant a national interest waiver of the labor certification requirement, if the petitioner demonstrates that the beneficiary is a member of the professions holding an advanced degree or equivalent (or has exceptional ability in the arts, sciences or business) and will substantially contribute to the U.S.’s economy, culture, educational interests or welfare. The foreign national’s contributions must be in the sciences, arts, professions or business and his or her work must be in the “national interest of the United States”.

Under the prior NYSDOT standard, a petitioner had to meet a three-part test, proving that: (1) the employment is of substantial intrinsic merit; (2) any proposed benefit be national in scope; and (3) the national interest would be adversely affected if a labor certification were required for the foreign national.

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