Letters of support from other peers in the field, also called reference letters or testimonial letters, are very important part of National Interest Waiver petition. It is considered as a subjective evidence by USCIS officers but may be a good way how to demonstrate required National Interest Waiver criteria given by precedent NYSDOT case.
For example: petitioner’s impact on the field of endeavor as a whole, he / she is critical member of a team who is above average U.S. workers, national interest would be adversely affected if labor certification would be required in his / her case etc. NIW reference letters may also highlight other submitted evidence (citations, publications, invited conference presentations, patents, awards, achievements, memberships in top associations etc.).
Strong testimonies are crucial in successful NIW case, therefore applicant should devote a great effort to prepare them and choose the right recommenders.
Who should write NIW reference letter
Petitioner should carefully choose leading experts or authorities (persons/agencies) in his / her field in order to write testimonial letters. Recommenders must present distinguished credentials in order to convince USCIS examiner that they are sufficiently qualified to make evaluation of petitioner’s expertise, achievements and future benefits to the nation.
Reference letters provided by interested government officials, established authorities and agencies can significantly help with success, but even those must establish that applicant will serve to the national interest and it must be specified in details there.
Similarly, NIW letters of recommendation from major professional associations and nationally or internationally recognized industry organizations could have greater impact.
Independent distinguished experts or managers of prosperous companies, especially those who hold higher positions, know and use applicant’s work or commercialized his / her research, belong to valuable sources of NIW supporting letters.
Editors of journals who reviewed petitioner’s publications, researchers who cited his / her papers or university professors with excellent background (who are not directly connected with petitioner) should be a good choice.
USCIS adjudicators give little weight to letters of recommendation from closely related persons such as research advisors, mentors, supervisors, employers or colleagues because of low objectivity. However, it is still worth to include letters from dependent persons with impressive background (employer or professor) if they have deep knowledge about applicant’s work and past track of achievements and hence could provide a strong testimony.
List of reference candidates mentioned above is ordered from the most to less important. Applicant should obtain letters from both: inner circle (closely related dependent peers) and outer circle (independent peers). But it is clear that USCIS officer will give more weight to NIW reference letters from independent experts who don’t work with applicant and don’t know him / her personally, but are familiar with his / her work (through publications, achievements, presentations, invited talks, reviewing etc.). These will be considered as more objective witnesses.
Folks on various public forums and some lawyers recommend to write experts who cited petitioner’s work, editors of journals where he / she published or to try colleagues from people in his / her network who are outside the close inner circle but they are still aware of his / her work or achievements. If such peers are found they should clearly state in their letter that they don’t know applicant personally and they evaluate his / her work only based on publications, achievements etc. It would be invaluable if they can explain how applicant’s work significantly affected them or others in the field. These letters are often drafted by lawyers or NIW applicant himself and then sent to proposed experts to be agreed and signed.
If the letters from independent experts cannot be obtained they can be substituted by other evidence such as: favorable comments in manuscripts from peer review process (opinions of neutral observers of applicant’s research), international citations, articles published in remarkable trade publications, notability of dependent experts from top level institutions or other evidence considered in EB1 category.
Recommender should be also chosen with regard to country. It is not necessary to have all NIW reference letters only from US citizens or peers working in USA, but majority of testimonies should come from USA.
How many NIW letters of recommendation
There is no official requirement regarding number of testimonial letters. We have seen recommendation that NIW case should include at least three letters. But from average statistics it seems that it is usual to have more than five letters. Generally, it should be sufficient to submit 5-10 reference letters. Remember, quantity is not as important as quality – better less letters from independent authorities with effective demonstration of established NIW requirements than plenty of average letters repeating same empty and general phrases. Excessive number of average letters can burry quality evidence and finally lead to RFE (Request for Evidence) or even denial.
Two or three independent letters of recommendation showing wide influence on the field should be sufficient for successful National Interest Waiver petition.
Style of the testimonial letter
NIW recommendation letter needs to be very specific and must include detailed descriptions and concrete examples. Explanations have to be accurate, persuasive and authoritative. However, used language must still be understandable for people who don’t understand the field (laymen’s language). USCIS adjudicator is not an expert and he relies on submitted evidence, thus reference letter may affect his judgment significantly.
Testimony should include also abnormal formulations to address National Interest Waiver requirements which probably wouldn’t be mentioned otherwise. For example: “labor certification would harm national interest because…”. Would the recommender know what labor certification process is, why it can be so harmful to national interest and that he / she should write about it? Probably not if he / she didn’t have experience with it.
That is why many applicants prepare drafts or some guide points for their recommenders (mentioned below). If applicant hires a lawyer for NIW process there should be very close cooperation between applicant, lawyer and recommender when drafting NIW supporting letter. Applicant brings important points regarding his / her research and lawyer provides relevant law formulations. NIW recommendation letter then goes to recommender to add his own words and polish it. This process may be repeated until all sides are satisfied with the letter.
Applicants who draft all the letters and send them to recommenders just for signing should be very careful! USCIS examiner may get suspicious if all letters are written in the same style. Different formulations, tone and language style, structure, opening salutation, format, font, letter size, paragraph spacing etc. should be used.
Length of NIW recommendation letter varies usually between 1,5 and 3 pages. Longer letters may lose effectiveness because USCIS officer may skip important parts due to lack of time.
Final version of reference letter should be printed out on the letterhead of recommender’s employer institution.
When filing also another petition in EB1 category, petitioner should have slightly different recommendation letters. National Interest Waiver criteria are different from those in EB1 and hence EB1 letters will not be fully effective in EB2 NIW process (important formulations are simply missing there). Applicant should prepare two versions of the letter for his / her recommender or use one letter and explain explicitly in both petition letters how it demonstrates required criteria.
Structure of the NIW reference letter
1. Heading of the supporting letter
Letter usually starts with official address of recommender’s employer institution and his full contact, including email address and phone/fax numbers.
Date may follow below address.
2. USCIS address
Recommender should write relevant USCIS address at the beginning of NIW reference letter.
EB2 National Interest Waiver applicants are still eligible only for regular processing (check USCIS for updates). One of the following addresses for regular processing is used according to which form is filed and mailing service used:
|U.S. Postal Service||USPS Express Mail/Courier|
P.O. Box 660128
Dallas, TX 75266
2501 S. State Highway 121
Lewisville, TX 75067
|I-140 + I-485 concurrently||USCIS
P.O. Box 660867
Dallas, TX 75266
2501 S. State Highway 121
Lewisville, TX 75067
Please check if these addresses didn’t change at USCIS website.
3. Opening and salutation
First statement: “RE: EB2 National Interest Waiver Petition for [petitioner’s name with degree]“.
Then comes salutation. Applicant should make sure there is not always same phrase in each letter, one of the following may be chosen: “Dear Sir/Madam”, “Dear Sir or Madam”, “Dear USCIS Director”, “Dear Immigration Officer”, “Dear USCIS Officer”, “Dear USCIS Examiner”, “Dear USCIS Adjudicator” etc.
4. Credentials and background of the recommender
Distinguished expertise, outstanding credentials, qualification and top level job position of the recommender carry more weight with the USCIS officer. Recommender must introduce himself / herself and his / her excellent background in order to convince adjudicator that he / she is sufficiently qualified to judge whether applicant’s work is in the national interest and have significant impact on the field. This description should include recommender’s employer, job title, work experience, research achievements, honors, awards, educational background etc. Recommender’s credentials should be also demonstrated by additional documents (CV, newspaper articles etc.).
5. How the recommender knows the petitioner
Recommender must describe relationship with applicant and explicitly state how they know each other. Recommender should explain how he became aware of applicant’s work if he doesn’t know applicant directly mentioning specific sources such as conference, publications, peer-reviews, work etc. Recommender should also describe which part of applicant’s research he is familiar with. If recommender doesn’t know applicant personally it is extremely important to clearly demonstrate this fact because USCIS will consider such letter as more objective and gives it greater importance. This will also show to adjudicator that applicant‘s work has been recognized outside his / her immediate circle of colleagues and he / she influenced the field of endeavor widely.
6. Evaluation of applicant’s work – demonstrating EB2 NIW criteria
NIW reference letters play crucial role in satisfying National Interest Waiver requirements hence petitioner should keep focus on preparing this part of the letter very carefully and guide the recommender. It is not necessary to cover all following points in each letter, rather each recommender should emphasize on such parts of applicant’s contribution or achievements he / she is most familiar with.
Testimony may establish basic and easy criteria such as applicant’s employment is in area of substantial intrinsic merit or national in scope (not just regional impact). But it is widely and often used for demonstrating most difficult third NIW requirement – national interest.
NIW reference letter should describe petitioner’s unique skill, knowledge, experience, original contributions or achievements which sets him / her apart from peers in the field. Petitioner should use his / her specific field when comparing to other peers (e.g. pixel detector physics rather than just physics). It must be demonstrated that he / she is not only qualified for specific work but also above level of U.S. workers with same comparable education or qualification.
Recommender can testify how applicant’s contribution substantially influenced him / her and others in the field. If possible he / she should keep it “wide” mentioning that impact is not only on narrow group of peers but on national or international level. This can help a lot if applicant has lower number of citations. Remember that not only applicant’s field of endeavor must be significantly important but especially his / her specific contribution.
General empty compliments and only brief description, such as “applicant developed new method or discovered something”, are usually insufficient. It must be further clearly explained what exactly is so superior, how it affected others and why they use it. It is necessary to show why it is so important and what are the benefits to the national interest. Recommender must specify it in detail using concrete examples but still in laymen’s language. USCIS adjudicator needs to see that applicant’s work was widely recognized by other peers and its impact on the field is nationally significant. Letter can also explain how applicant’s work is prospective to the future national benefits. Recommender can state that he / she truly believes petitioner will continue to serve to the national interest based on past track of his / her work.
If National Interest Waiver letter of support is written by proposed employer he / she must describe petitioner’s prospective job in detail – duties and requirements (unique credentials) for this job position. Recommender should state that ordinary U.S. worker with same minimum qualification could not accomplish the job. Only very few individuals with exceptional abilities from top level of the field can perform required duties and petitioner is one of these few individuals. Employer must explain how applicant’s particular activity could serve to the national interest. Finally, one of the most important things is to show that applicant’s role in the project is critical and why job duty cannot be fulfilled without him / her.
Another criterion from precedent NYSDOT case which should be discussed is: national interest would be adversely affected if a labor certification were required. For example, when there is an urgent need to employ applicant in nationally important project and labor certification would persist too long that it would harm national interest. Check current processing times at Department of Labor website if this argument would be valid. Another example: government agency’s policy doesn’t allow to apply for labor certification so applicant must get his green card through National Interest Waiver and then they can offer him a job position in the national interest. Another option which might be used generally is to demonstrate extraordinary achievements and skills which are far beyond minimum qualifications considered in labor certification and such process would omit these extraordinary skills.
Appropriate parts of the NIW reference letter will be used as an evidence in EB2 NIW petition letter in order to convince USCIS examiner how applicant’s work serves / will serve to the national interest of the USA.
7. Closing recommendation statement
Recommender should close his / her testimony by personal statement where he / she confirms it is in the national interest to grant applicant Permanent Residency. He / she may also note that officer can contact him / her for further questions if any.
Finally comes farewell phrase (“Yours Truly”, “Sincerely”, “Respectfully”, “Faithfully”), name, signature, job title and institution.
Formulations to avoid in the NIW reference letter
NIW supporting letter shouldn’t mention that shortage of qualified US workers is a reason for approving National Interest Waiver petition because it is argument rather for labor certification.
Recommender should avoid empty compliments or general brief statements without explaining concrete benefits by descriptive examples. Statements should be supported by objective evidence or sufficient explanation.
Repeating formulations from NIW standard (NYSDOT case) without further justification of particular details should be avoided.
How to organize testimonial letters within NIW petition
Reference letters may be placed directly beneath I-140 form and petition letter. This step can significantly save time to USCIS examiner and should reduce a risk he would miss something important and send RFE (Request for Evidence).
List of recommenders of all NIW recommendation letters, including job titles and employers should precede the letters.
CV and pertinent newspaper articles describing credentials or achievements of recommender may be added behind each NIW reference letter.
As you can see, evidence in the form of recommendation letters is the key to the success in EB2 National Interest Waiver application for green card. It may take significant amount of time to find right recommenders, prepare all the letters for them and wait untill they have time to review or create them for you.
Next post will show sample NIW reference letter, rather a template than a real letter.