How to Sponsor Yourself for a Green Card

How to Sponsor Yourself for a Green Card

How to Sponsor Yourself for a Green Card 2560 1920 Tess Douglas

4 Ways to Get a Green Card Without a Sponsor

Whether you are outside the U.S. or already here, you may be wondering, is it possible to get a green card? Do I need a family member or an employer to sponsor me? Or, can I sponsor myself?

If you don’t have a family member or an employer who plans to sponsor you, the good news is that it is possible to sponsor yourself.

There are four ways to sponsor yourself for a green card, you may have already heard of them:

      1. The diversity lottery
      2. As an individual of “extraordinary ability”
      3. As someone coming to the United States to advance a field in the national interest (“national interest waiver”)
      4. As an investor in a U.S.

What do these three self-sponsorship categories really mean, how do you determine if you are eligible, and what is the process for securing a green card through one of these three ways?

This guide offers an overview of the categories for sponsoring yourself for a green card, and the steps you can take to determine if you are eligible.

1. The Diversity Lottery

What is it?

The United States gives out green cards to individuals from certain countries each year.  The requirements are relatively simple and many people are eligible.  The hardest part is out of your control: being selected randomly out of all the applicants.

The goal of the diversity lottery program is to increase immigration to the United States from countries that do not typically have a large number of immigrations in the United States.  So, only people from certain countries are eligible.

Are you eligible?

1. You were born in one of the countries identified by the diversity lottery program

Every year the United States identifies the countries for the diversity lottery.  The countries can change each year. You can find the list of countries in the “Program Instructions” document here.

2. You hold a high school degree or equivalent work experience

The diversity lottery requires that recipients have at least a high school degree.  There is an exception to this high school degree requirement for some people who have at least two years of work experience within the past five years.  Not everyone who has two years of work experience qualifies, so it’s usually a good idea to touch base with a lawyer to determine whether this exception would apply to you.

3. You register for the lottery

To be considered for the lottery, you will need to fill out a form on the U.S. Department of State website.  This form is typically only available to complete between October and November of each year. If you want to be considered for the lottery for the upcoming year, you must register during this time.  If you miss this time to register, you will have to wait until the next year.

Once you complete the form you will receive a confirmation number, which you will need to know to determine whether you were selected for the lottery.

4. You are selected for the lottery

The winners of the randomized lottery are typically selected at the beginning of May.  You will not be notified that you won the diversity visa lottery, instead you must go to the Department of State website to check if your lottery number was selected. You will use your confirmation number that you received from the lottery registration to check if you won.

Let’s say you check and you find out you were selected for the lottery, time to celebrate!  Now you have a green card in hand, right? Wrong.  Just because you are selected does not mean you automatically get a green card, you then have to apply for your green card and be eligible to be admitted to the United States.

5. You are eligible to be admitted to the United States

Even though this step is at the end of the road, it is often the longest and most challenging.  The diversity lottery selection just gives you the opportunity to apply for a green card—it is not an automatic green card.

Once you are selected, you will receive a number ranking that will tell you when you can apply for your green card.  You must use this number to check the Department of State’s visa bulletin to determine when you can apply.  If you are outside the United States you will apply through the U.S. consulate in your country.  If you are in the United States, in some circumstances you may be able to remain in the country and apply through a process called adjustment of status.  Either way, you will be asked detailed questions about yourself so that the U.S. government can determine whether you may be admitted to the United States.  If you have any criminal history or previous immigration issues, it is often useful to have an attorney review those issues with you before you submit your application to make sure they will not bar you from getting your green card.

Once you apply for your green card, then it must be approved by the end of September of your diversity lottery year, otherwise you lose your ability to use your diversity visa lottery selection.  The timeline can be a bit confusing, so to clarify, let’s take an example.  You register for the diversity visa lottery in October 2021, you are informed that you are selected in May 2022, the visa bulletin permits you to apply for your visa starting in August 2022, then you have until September 2023 to receive your green card.  Your green card must be approved by September 2023, otherwise you lose your diversity visa lottery selection.

If you follow this timeline and meet these requirements then lucky you—you can successfully sponsor yourself for a green card through the diversity lottery.

2. Extraordinary Ability

What is it?

If you are an expert in your field of work and you have received international recognition in the field, then you may be eligible for an extraordinary ability green card.  This category is often used by top academics, athletes, and actors—it is sometimes referred to as the Einstein or the genius visa.  Although it is difficult to get this kind of green card, you don’t have to be Einstein to do it.

Are you eligible?

1. You work in the sciences, arts, education, business, or athletics

This category is limited to people who work in specific fields, but the fields can encompass a broad range of work.  For example, the sciences can include software engineers; business can include startup founders; and education can include historians.

2. You have received national or international recognition for work in your field

To qualify for extraordinary ability, you need to be at the top of your field, and you must have received widespread recognition for your work.

How do you show that you are at the very top of your field?  You must either be a Nobel prize winner (or winner of an award that is essentially equivalent to the notoriety of a Nobel prize), or meet 3 out of 10 criteria:

  1. You have received multiple nationally or internationally recognized prizes or awards for your work;
  2. You are a member of an association that only selects members who have demonstrated outstanding achievement in the field;
  3. Major media publications have featured you and your work;
  4. You have served as the judge of the work of others in your field, such as on an international academic journal or conference panel;
  5. You have made significant original contributions to your field;
  6. You have authored original scholarly articles in the field;
  7. Your work has been displayed at artistic exhibitions;
  8. You have performed a leading or critical role at a distinguished organization, such as a university or international company;
  9. You have a high salary in comparison to others in the field;
  10. You have been commercially successful in the performing arts.

Although these criteria may seem straightforward, each one is complex and requires specific documentation to demonstrate that you meet it.  Simply claiming that you meet a criterion, or even having multiple recommendation letters from experts in the field can be insufficient without additional objective evidence.

Even if you meet these criteria, this doesn’t mean you automatically qualify for an extraordinary ability green card.  You still need to be considered as a leader who has received widespread recognition for your work in the field. Ultimately, you need to be honest with yourself, are you truly at the very top of your field? Are you one of the leaders that others look to and cite when they are talking about your field?  If so, then you may have a good shot at qualifying for an extraordinary ability visa.

3. You intend to work in the United States, in your area of expertise

Are you coming to live in the United States to continue to work in your field of expertise, or are you coming to start a whole different life in a different line of work?

To be eligible for the extraordinary ability green card, you will need to explain how and what you plan to do in the United States to prove that you plan to continue to work in your field in the United States.

4. You are eligible to be admitted to the United States and a visa is available for you

If you can meet the requirements for extraordinary ability, you will file a I-140 Petition with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) with the supporting documentation demonstrating your eligibility.  Once that is approved by USCIS, you have successfully shown that you are a person of extraordinary ability, and you are now allowed to apply for your green card.

You will need to check the visa bulletin to see if you are allowed to apply for your green card at this time, or you need to wait in line.  Most countries don’t have a wait for extraordinary ability (EB1) green cards, but China and India typically do.

If you don’t have to wait in line and a visa is available, then it’s time to apply for your green card.  If you are outside the United States you will apply for your green card through the U.S. consulate in your country.  If you are in the United States, in certain circumstances, you may be able to remain in the country and apply through a process called adjustment of status.  At this stage, you will need to be prepared to answer detailed questions about yourself (such as about your employment, criminal, and immigration history) so that the United States can determine whether to admit you.

If you meet these requirements, then you can successfully sponsor yourself for an EB-1 green card as an individual of extraordinary ability.

3. National Interest Waiver (NIW)

What is it?

For most employment-based green cards, an employer is required show that no U.S. workers can fulfill the position.  But, there is an exception to this general rule.  The U.S. government will “waive” the requirement for people who are coming to the United States to advance a field of national interest.

The goal of this “national interest waiver” is to attract foreign nationals to the United States who will have a productive and nationwide impact on the country.

Are you eligible?

1. You work in the sciences, arts, education, business, or athletics

This first step may look familiar, it is the same as with the extraordinary ability category.

National interest waivers are limited to people who work in sciences, arts, education, business, or athletics, but these fields can encompass a broad range of work—many occupations can fit within these overarching fields.

2. You hold at least a master’s degree or you are an individual of “exceptional ability”

If you have at least a master’s degree in your field, then you meet this requirement.  You can also meet this requirement if you have a bachelor’s degree and five years of progressive experience.

Otherwise, you will need to show you are a person of “exceptional ability.”  This is much trickier than simply showing your education.  You will need to meet several additional requirements including that you have at least 10 years of experience in your profession.

Attorney Tip: Typically, national interest waiver cases are stronger if the applicant has a Ph.D, rather than just a master’s degree.

3. Your work has substantial intrinsic merit

You will need to show that what you do contributes to a field that is important to the United States.  This is usually an easy requirement to meet.  Whether it’s technology, culture, science, or entrepreneurship, most fields are valuable in some way to the U.S. national interest.

4. Your work has national importance

Does your work have an impact not just a small geographic area, but the entire United States?

Your work must be national in scope.  Even if you work in an industry that serves the national interest, such as a teacher in an elementary school, this is not enough.  Your contribution must be broader than one school—you must have the potential to make a widespread impact on the entire country.

5. You are in a position to advance your field

This is the most important requirement for a national interest waiver.  You need to show how you have already contributed to your field in a way that puts you in a strong position to continue to advance the field forward.  Have you received government funding for your work? Do you have hundreds of citations to your research demonstrating that other scholars rely on your research? Do you have highly used patents or licensing deals with major companies?  This is the kind of proof the U.S. government is looking for to show that you already have an established record of pushing the field forward and you are well positioned to continue to do so.

6. It’s beneficial to the United States to waive the typical requirement that no U.S. worker be available to do the job

Can you show that there is some kind of urgency or immediate need for you to begin your work in the United States?  This is usually an easy requirement to meet if you’ve already met the other requirements for a national interest waiver.  Given that you are coming to work in a field of national interest, then it’s typically beneficial to the United States for you to begin work as soon as possible to advance the field.

7. You are eligible to be admitted to the United States and a visa is available for you

If you meet the six requirements for a national interest waiver, then you can file an I-140 with supporting documentation with USCIS.  Once that is approved, you have successfully shown that you qualify for an employment-based green card (EB-2).

Like with the diversity visa and the extraordinary ability category, getting to this stage simply allows you to apply for your green card, it does not give you an automatic green card.

Before you can get your green card you will need to check the visa bulletin to see if you are allowed to apply for it at this time, or you need to wait in line.  Most countries don’t have a long wait for EB-2 green cards, but China and India typically do.

If you don’t have to wait in line and a visa is available, then it’s time to apply for your green card.  If you are outside the United States you will apply for your green card through the U.S. consulate in your country.  If you are in the United States you may be able to remain in the country and apply through a process called adjustment of status.  At this stage, you will need to be prepared to answer detailed questions about yourself (such as about your employment, criminal, and immigration history) so that the United States can determine whether to admit you.

If you meet these requirements, then you can successfully sponsor yourself for an EB-2 national interest waiver green card.

4. EB-5 Investors

What is it?

The United States awards green cards to people who invest a significant amount of money into a U.S. business, which creates jobs for U.S. workers.

Are you eligible?

1. You have $500,000 or $1,000,000 to invest in a U.S. company

Typically, you will need $1,000,000.  That’s why you may have heard of this being called the “Million Dollar Green Card.” If you only have $500,000 that you can invest you may be able to qualify for EB-5, but the investment must be in a “targeted employment area” (TEA).  A targeted employment area is a rural area or a high unemployment area (over 150% of the national average).

The investment cannot be a loan to the company, and you must be ready to show through extensive documentation where your investment came from—demonstrating that the money did not come from any unlawful sources.

2. You will invest in a new commercial enterprise

You must invest your money in a new or existing business.  Although the word “new” in “new commercial enterprise” makes it sound like the company you are investing in must have been formed in the last few years, in reality, a company can be considered “new” if it was established over 30 years ago (established after November 29, 1990 to be exact) as long as it will be restructured or reorganized with your investment.

If you are looking to be a more passive investor, you may invest in a “regional center.”  A regional center is a U.S. entity designated by USCIS as promoting economic growth.

3. You will manage the U.S. business (unless you are investing in a regional center)

You will need to show that you are not just a passive investor, but that you will be managing the business, meaning that you have control over the day-to-day operations, or you are responsible for formulating policies that impact the entire business. However, if you are investing in a regional center you do not need to show that you are actively managing the business.

4. You will create at least 10 U.S. jobs

You do not have to hire 10 U.S. workers immediately, but you will need to show that your business will be in a position to employ 10 U.S. workers in the next few years.  If the business does not already employ 10 U.S. workers, you will need to submit detailed evidence on how you will create and preserve the jobs in the near future.

5. You are eligible to be admitted to the United States and a visa is available for you

If you can meet these four main requirements, then you can file a petition with USCIS.  USCIS heavily scrutinizes EB-5 petitions, and often issues requests for evidence (RFEs) for more detailed documentation.  An attorney can help prepare a strong application that will decrease the chances of an RFE or denial.  Once the petition is approved by USCIS, you have successfully shown that you qualify for an EB-5 investor green card.

Like with the other self-sponsorship green cards, getting to this stage simply allows you to apply for your green card, it does not give you an automatic green card.

Before you can get your green card you will need to check the visa bulletin to see if you are allowed to apply for it at this time, or you need to wait in line.  Most countries don’t have to wait for EB-5 green cards, but China typically does.

If you don’t have to wait in line and a visa is available, then it’s time to apply for your green card.  If you are outside the United States you will apply for your green card through the U.S. consulate in your country.  If you are in the United States you may be able to remain in the country and apply through a process called adjustment of status.  At this stage, you will need to be prepared to answer detailed questions about yourself (such as about your employment, criminal, and immigration history) so that the United States can determine whether to admit you.

If you meet these requirements, then you can successfully sponsor yourself for an EB-5 investor green card.  You will initially be granted a 2-year conditional green card.  This is because the U.S. government wants to check in on your business in 2 years to ensure that your investment truly created or preserved 10 U.S. jobs.  90 days prior to your 2-year mark you will be able to apply to “remove the conditions” of your green card, which once approved will result in your permanent green card.

 

Sponsoring yourself for a green card is possible, but it is generally limited to four options.  The requirements for a diversity visa are relatively straightforward. People who are eligible for the diversity visa can pursue that path with minimal, if any, attorney assistance.  However, for the extraordinary ability, national interest waiver, and investor categories, the requirements are complex and it can be useful to have an attorney objectively evaluate your eligibility.

If you are interested in having an attorney review your eligibility for one of these visas or you would like discuss other ways to live in the United States, you can schedule a strategy session with one of our attorneys here.

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This website and blog constitute attorney advertising. Do not consider anything on this website or blog as legal advice and nothing on this website constitutes the formation of an attorney-client relationship. Book a consultation with us before you act using any information you read here. Past results are not a guarantee of future results and past results do not imply or predict future results. Each case is different and must be judged on its own merits.

Tess Douglas

I provide representation for a diverse range of immigration matters, including nonimmigrant visas, immigrant visas, criminal immigration issues, appeals, and federal litigation.

All stories by:Tess Douglas

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