Green Card Options for PhD Holders

In virtually all types of green card application, the foreign national seeking permanent residence must have a sponsor.  Typically the sponsor is the applicant’s employer or there is some type of familial relationship.  For certain PhD holders, or even PhD students, the foreign national can act as both the sponsor and the applicant.

The two paths to permanent residence that allow self-sponsorship are the EB-1 Alien of Extraordinary Ability category and the EB-2 National Interest Waiver (NIW) category.  While both categories have stringent requirements, the Eb-1 category is much more restrictive and requires the applicant to prove that he or she is one of the top individuals in his or her area of expertise.  Currently, there is no benefit to having an EB-1 application approved over an NIW application except for nationals of PR China and India.  Unless bragging rights are important, most applicants would be better off applying through the NIW category because approvals are easier.

There are three keys to a successful EB-1 or NIW application.

1.  Strong credentials.  In our experience, a successful EB-1 applicant should have a PhD, 10+ journal publications, 40+ journal citations, 5+ conference proceedings and previous service for a journal reviewing manuscripts or membership in highly regarded professional organizations.  These are not absolute minimums as we have obtained EB-1 approvals for clients with significantly weaker credentials but this should serve as a guide for potential applicants.  In contrast to the EB-1 requirements, an NIW applicant need only a PhD with 3+ journal publications and 5+ journal citations.

2.  Strong Recommendation Letters.  Both EB-1 and NIW applicants should obtain at least 4 recommendation letters from various sources.  These letters must be worded correctly or the USCIS officer reviewing the application will use the letters against the applicant to deny the case.

3.  Persuasive Cover Letter.  It is absolutely imperative to guide the USCIS officer through the application to educate them on the applicant’s accomplishments and why those accomplishments are superior to others.  The cover letter must cite the applicable statutes as well as federal court cases to explain why the applicant meets the legal burden of proof.  The burden of proof rests with the applicant and he or she must demonstrate eligibility for the category.

It normally takes about 12-18 months to get a decision on the EB-1 or NIW application.  If the applicant fails to demonstrate eligibility and the case is denied, it can be appealed.  Appeals generally take 12 months and most denials are sustained.  The applicant may also choose to refile but in each application, the applicant must disclose previous filings.  Without substantial new accomplishments, the case is likely to be denied again.  Therefore, it is vital to present the best possible case to USCIS in the first application.

10 Responses

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  1. Written by Predrag Tosic
    on August 26, 2011 at 10:15 pm


    I have a friend who is considering self-sponsoring. All degrees from the US (5 in total), PhD from a top school (Univ. of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign), close to 10 journal papers (most as the sole or 1st author) and about 40 peer-reviewed conference papers. H-impact factor of 10 (meaning, at least 10 papers with 10+ citations), and the total citation count close to 300 according to Google Scholar.
    However, through a combination of circumstances (a temporary faculty position with uncertain research funding etc.), he’s facing being underemployed or even unemployed in the immediate future. Can he still self-sponsor, what are the implications if he briefly falls out of status, and do you provide initial consultation / evaluation of credentials? Is being on H1 and falling out of status (however briefly) a killer for self-sponsored GC applicants?

    Please email me if your firm would provide credential evaluation / initial consultation. My friend wants to retain specifically experts in self-sponsored skill-based immigration, and your firm sounds like you might be the right choice there.

  2. Written by Nate
    on September 10, 2011 at 12:03 am

    My wife has done her PHD from a foriegn University and she is dentist by profession. She has 5 Journal papers 6 Citations and has her own practice.

    Can she apply for US citizenship in any of the provisions.

  3. Written by Obama!
    on April 3, 2012 at 8:57 am

    It is really very shameful and the stupid nature of the USA goverment how it tries to drive the most qualified people from the developing world! It is a shameful buisness for USA and its fucken people! While people get educated on the expenses of the poor nations, USA is exploiting the results of the fertile minds of these people! It is really brain theft! Down with the stupid USA government and its bulshit people! It is another form of colonization! Shame on you!!!

  4. Written by test focus
    on October 21, 2012 at 12:37 pm


    It is indeed true! Also, DISCRIMINATION is rampant across US industries despite they claim they are equal employee oppurtunity company! Most of the american grads working for top notch tech companies have bachelors from god knows college with zero publications. But even of you have degree from IIT, Phd from top 10 engineering college with 10+ journal publication, you have to work under them with less salary!

  5. Written by Rahul
    on January 14, 2013 at 9:56 pm

    Someone forced you to go to US Mr. “Obama!” or “test focus”? Dont speak or write crap about some country without understanding why ppl leave theirs to go to US or other nation. Finally money matters to everyone. If US is taking the best ppl, it has right to take them. Y r the best ppl leaving their nations and going? Think about this issue first. No human wld like to leave their birth nation to any other without strong reasons….so think before u comment…change ur attitude…

  6. Written by sankarasubramanian parameswaran
    on March 14, 2013 at 10:17 am

    My wife has completed the PHD on Bio tech and she does not have any job offer. Please let me know whether she is still eligible for EB1

  7. Written by t
    on February 1, 2014 at 6:09 pm

    Agree with Rahul. Although I do feel US exploits people anyway but I digress….

    Most people who come here are from nations that are not on par with US standards ( living, human development, jobs etc). We don’t often see people here from sweden, Australia, canada,
    UK, NZ etc. Ofcourse there’s a reason, think about it.

  8. Written by Sorena
    on April 7, 2015 at 1:33 pm

    I got my PhD in mechanical Engineering with 7 publication and 44 citations from Malaysia. Please let me know whether I am eligible for any green card scheme such as EB1 or EB2?

  9. Written by Sudheesh Kandappadi
    on November 23, 2016 at 9:42 pm


    I have a master degree from India and have four journal papers with 40 citation. Also have six years of work experience. whether I am eligible for any green card scheme such as EB1 or EB2

  10. Written by Shabana
    on August 7, 2018 at 8:03 pm


    I and my husband we both are Ph.D. My husband have more than 30 journals and have 15 years of teaching experience in the field of electrical engineering. I also have 7 years of teaching experience and have 3 journals and 3 conference papers.
    Please email me if your firm would provide credential evaluation / initial consultation. we want to retain specifically experts in skill-based immigration.

    Thank you

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