After deciding to pursue immigration to the United States with an NIW, you’ll have to decide whether you will hire a lawyer to prepare your petition or if you opt to do it yourself.
Hiring a lawyer for an NIW petition streamlines the process and increases the likelihood that your petition will be successful. However, this service will cost around $5,000 and you still need to do a lot of work yourself. You are responsible for identifying and acquiring recommenders, writing summaries of your work, and getting the documents in order.
Depending on your finances, making this decision can be easy. If you can’t afford it, then a DIY petition is the only route available. If the option is available though, is hiring a lawyer worth this significant investment?
How to Choose a Lawyer
Many law firms specialize in NIW cases, and I would strongly suggest choosing one of them if you hire a lawyer. As these law firms are competing for your business, you can normally find a contract with a lawyer that will guarantee an NIW approval or your money back. These types of deals make the $5,000 investment in your future seem worthwhile. It also gives confidence that the law firm is going to do everything it can to get your petition approved, or they won’t get paid. That’s always reassuring. Shop around and read the small print on any extra fees that you may incur. Some law firms will charge extra for redrafting letters or for editing a petition more than once. If you can, use a lawyer that is all inclusive and will also cover any RFE fillings.
What Hiring a Lawyer Gets You
No matter which law firm you choose, their fee will cover writing the recommendation letters and drafting your petition. Their experience in filling NIW cases means that they know the trends coming out of the USCIS service centers. They are aware of NIW arguments that are proving to be successful and those that are not. They use this knowledge to ensure your recommendation letters and overall petition make the best case possible. They will guide you on who to ask for recommendation letters (from a list you make) from to successfully argue your impact on particular aspects of your portfolio.
Your lawyer will also guide you on what to include in the petition. This can be deciding which research projects to talk about (anything without a citation is of no consequence to USCIS) and which media outlet reports to include.
A major advantage of a lawyer is having experienced personnel check over your forms and supporting documentation for errors. Something as simple as calling yourself a biomedical engineer instead of a biochemist can be the difference between approval and an RFE or rejection. If you think that is being picky, well sending in a copy of your diploma that is slightly crooked will also result in an RFE for a straight one. In short, hiring a lawyer can prevent these types of discrepancies from creeping into your petition. Although in these instances and RFE is more likely than denial, the RFE adds considerable processing time to your petition.
If you are not a native/fluent English speaker or don’t have someone this is to read over your petition package, then hiring a lawyer is recommended. USCIS officers are human and reading grammatically incorrect English can lead to them rejecting your petition.
Things You Need to do Yourself
Whether you hire a lawyer or not, there is still a considerable amount of work you need to do. Initially, your lawyers will ask you to write a summary of all your work and associated achievements. This requires writing about your research for both the layman and for experts in your field. This is so they can draft your recommendation letters. You also need to curate a list of each time you’ve reviewed a paper, appeared in the media or received an award. Hopefully, you’ve been keeping your CV up to date so this won’t be too time-consuming!
Although the lawyers will guide you on which recommenders you should use in your case, you need to draw up that list yourself. This can take a considerable amount of time that I’ll discuss in a future post. Briefly, though, you search for people that are experts in your field that have, ideally, cited your work. You will spend considerable time getting independent recommenders (experts you’ve never worked with in any capacity) to agree to sign a letter for you and the same time again getting the signed latter back.
You are also responsible for printing out your supporting documents. This includes the first three pages of all your published papers, transcripts, patents, identification documents, peer review evidence, personal statement, etc.
Can I go DIY and Save Myself Thousands?
Yes, absolutely. There is no legal requirement for you to submit your petition through a lawyer. There are several excellent DIY guides available online and an experienced vibrant community that will help you make a successful petition. Lawyer’s websites even have examples of recommendation letters that you can review to understand the legal jargon and format required. Often too, they have a list of documents you need and clearly show the process of making a petition. I’d even reach out to a lawyer to get a free assessment of your case. If they come back and offer you an approval or refund contract, you can go into your DIY petition knowing that you have a strong case.
If you are motivated, detail orientated, and have a grasp of the English language, then there is no reason you cannot submit a DIY NIW petition.
I’d also recommend the DIY approach if you are in a tight time crunch to get your application submitted. Although lawyers tend to answer questions in under 24 hours, those days going back and forth can add up. Also, most take ten business days to draft the letters and another ten business days to draft the petition. All in, you’re looking at around six months between hiring a lawyer and your petition being submitted to USCIS. Although waiting on recommenders getting back to you is the most time-consuming aspect, you can still save significant time by going down the DIY route.
Deciding whether to hire a lawyer for your NIW petition is an important decision. I’d recommend looking at the requirements and examples of letters that have been written for this purpose. If after reviewing them, you feel overwhelmed and you can afford the money and time, hire a lawyer. However, if you feel confident that you can prepare the petition yourself, there is no reason why you shouldn’t.
What is the NIW Approval Rate if Hiring a Lawyer?
Most NIW law firms are above 98% for NIW petition success rates. Some, more experienced firms, are above 99%. Approval rates close to 100% exist for cases that the lawyers will refund if the petition is denied, showing their confidence in the cases they offer this service to.
How much is the filing fee for NIW?
The USCIS charges $700 to file your EB-2 NIW petition. There is no premium processing for the NIW at this time.