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The STEM PHD Green Card Explained

Why Are Green Card Rules Special for STEM Ph.D. Holders?

Permanent Resident Card

The United States creates immigration opportunities for people who can help to make the United States leaders in innovation. The United States always needs people with special skills, high-ranking professionals, and people with advanced degrees to help fortify the country’s strengths. If you have a STEM Ph.D., you may be able to contribute to the spirit of U.S. innovation. 

What Is STEM?

STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. The term “STEM” is used to refer to jobs, professionals, and research in any of the four fields the acronym describes. These fields are somewhat complicated to get into. 

STEM fields require higher education and unique expertise. Most high-level STEM careers require applicants to have a Master’s degree or Doctorate degree (Ph.D.). People who have achieved higher education in these fields have worked hard to prove themselves capable of taking on some of the most difficult and important jobs in society.

STEM professionals are necessary for innovation. Without professionals in these fields, society would stagnate. Industries couldn’t grow, there would be no advances in modern medicine, and we would lack infrastructure for our ever-growing, constantly changing world.

Why Are Green Card Rules Special for STEM Ph.D. Holders?

People qualified to work in STEM fields are in high demand. Many students in the United States elect to pursue careers that require a four-year Bachelor’s degree or less. There are plenty of career opportunities in the United States for people who elect to participate in training programs, apprenticeships, internships, or two-year certifications. These are the most common career paths that U.S. citizens choose.

The United States often does not have a sufficient number of citizens working in STEM fields, which is why immigration policies for qualified STEM professionals tend to be more lenient than work-related green cards and visas for people who work in other fields. 

What Is the Keep STEM Talent Act of 2023?

A bipartisan bill introduced in 2023 acknowledges the invaluable contributions of foreign-born STEM professionals in the United States. About two-thirds of STEM students with the most desirable majors living in the United States were born outside of the country. 

The United States wants to prioritize research into artificial intelligence and semiconductors, two rapidly advancing areas of technology. Since the majority of individuals majoring in these fields are immigrants or are currently living outside of the United States, the bill declares that the best option is to retain these foreign-born students and to make it easier for people with similar educational credentials to relocate to the United States.

The Keep Stem Talent Act aims to incentivize STEM students currently attending university in the United States to stay once they’ve graduated. It would allow students with job offers upon graduation to remain in the United States, seamlessly transitioning from student status to employment status via an exemption to employment-based green card limits. This exemption would extend to their immediate family members.

People in the United States on student visas are currently only allowed within the United States for a singular nonimmigrant purpose. Students in the United States can have difficulty applying for green cards with employer sponsorship while on a student visa. A new provision would allow for “dual intent,” which allows students to have both immigrant and nonimmigrant intent, which ultimately makes it easier to be sponsored for a green card by an employer in a STEM field.

The passage of this bill would allow for streamlined STEM career opportunities within the United States for students who opt to attend U.S. educational institutions. It would further simplify the process for STEM graduates who would like to contribute to scientific and technological advancement in the United States.

How Many Employment-Based Green Cards Does the United States Offer Per Year?

The United States makes approximately 140,000 employment-based green cards available per fiscal year. The fiscal year ends on September 30th and begins on October 1st each year. Out of the 140,000 total available green cards, a specific number of those green cards are reserved for people with advanced degrees. This would include STEM Ph.D. holders.

Which Kind of Green Card Should STEM Ph.D. Holders Apply For?

Most STEM Ph.D. holders prefer to apply for the EB-1A visa. The EB-1A visa is specifically reserved for high-level professionals of extraordinary ability. Competition for EB-1A visas is significantly less because the majority of people applying for an employment-based visa or green card wouldn’t meet the qualifications to apply for EB-1A. Hopeful immigrants who do not meet the criteria for EB-1A may have more success with EB-2.

The EB-1 Visa

The EB-1A visa is reserved specifically for individuals with extraordinary ability in their fields. STEM fields are considered highly important for immigration purposes. Unlike other types of employment-related visas, immigrants are able to fully self-petition for the EB-1A visa. EB-1A petitioners do not need to have an active job offer in the United States, and they don’t require employer sponsorship.

Because EB-1A recipients have so much freedom, they also have a lot to prove. The EB-1A green card is commonly obtained by people who have received major accolades or awards for their professional work and published noteworthy professionals regarded as leaders in their field.

The EB-2 Visa

The EB-2 visa is technically one step down from the EB-1 visa. EB-2 visas are also for professionals with either advanced degrees or exceptional ability, but the criteria are slightly different. EB-2 applicants under the advanced degree category must have a degree higher than a Bachelor’s degree or a Bachelor’s degree with at least five years of relevant, progressive experience in their field. 

EB-2 applicants under the exceptional ability category must establish they have a degree of expertise significantly above that ordinarily encountered in the sciences, arts, or business. 

You must at least 3 of the following criteria to show exceptional ability:

  • Official academic records showing you have a degree, diploma, certificate, or similar award from a college, university, school, or other institution of learning related to your area of exceptional ability.
  • Letters from current or former employers showing at least 10 years of full-time experience in your occupation.
  • A license to practice your profession or certification for your profession.
  • Evidence that you have commanded a salary that demonstrates your exceptional ability.
  • Membership in a professional association(s).
  • Recognition for your achievements and significant contributions to your industry or field by your peers, government entities, or professional or business organizations.
  • Other comparable evidence of eligibility is also acceptable.

EB-2 applicants are also required to have a pending job offer in the United States before applying. Employer sponsorship is required.

The EB-2 Visa With National Interest Waiver

The EB-2 Visa with National Interest Waiver allows for an exception to the job offer requirement for the EB-2 Visa. If the work you do as a STEM professional would be considered of great benefit to the United States workforce, you may not need a current job offer to obtain an EB-2 visa. Your immigration would be considered furtherance of the national interest of the United States as a whole. 

It can be very difficult to obtain an EB-2 visa with a National Interest Waiver. Obtaining a National Interest Waiver is a separate process that runs concurrent to obtaining the visa. National Interest Waivers are typically reserved for people who only narrowly fall short of the criteria for an EB-1A visa but can also be issued in emergency cases where someone’s expertise is needed for a matter of urgent importance.

Do You Have To Obtain Your Doctorate Degree in the United States?

You don’t need to obtain your doctorate degree (or equivalent) in the United States in order to be considered for a STEM-related immigrant visa. Proposed bills would incentivize people who come to the United States on a student visa to complete their education, but they are not exclusively considered to receive STEM Ph.D. green cards.

What If You’re From a Country That Doesn’t Have Doctorate Degrees?

The United States accepts Ph.D. equivalent degrees from other countries. You do not need to graduate from a United States educational institution to qualify as a STEM Ph.D. recipient. 

The United States will also accept degrees like the following degrees from abroad:

  • DSc (Doctor of Science) as issued in Japan, Egypt, and South Korea.
  • Dr. rer. Nat. (Doctor rerum naturalium / Doctor of the things of nature) as issued in Germany, Austria, and Czech Republic.
  • Dr. Ing. (Doctorate of Engineering) as issued in Germany.
  • Dr. phil. Nat as issued in Switzerland.
  • Doctorate by Dissertation as issued in Japan.
  • Doctor Nauk (Doctor of Science), as issued in Russia and Poland.

Many of these degrees aren’t exclusively awarded to people in STEM fields. Your receipt of this equivalent degree must be in a STEM-related field. Doctor rerum naturalium degrees can be awarded for biology, chemistry, pharmacy, and other life sciences. This means that Dr. rer. Nat. recipients in these fields are scientists and therefore have a STEM doctorate.

Do Honorary Doctorates Count?

Honorary doctorate degrees do not count as STEM Ph.D. degrees for the purpose of immigration. You must formally graduate and be awarded an official STEM Ph.D. to be considered a STEM professional. 

Do You Need To Have a STEM Ph.D.?

Having a STEM Ph.D. increases the chances that you’ll be able to obtain an immigrant visa to the United States, but all doctorate degrees are valid for the EB-1 and EB-2 visa programs. These categories aren’t reserved specifically for people with certain types of doctorate degrees.

Some doctorate degrees are less suited to the demands of the American workforce, like doctorate degrees in areas like philosophy or English literature. You’re less likely to find job offers related to your doctorate degree that would be suited to an immigrant. You’re also less likely to qualify for a National Interest Waiver because the United States has an adequate amount of plenty of other doctorate holders. It’s STEM Ph.D. holders who are in short supply.

What If Your STEM Ph.D. Green Card Petition Is Denied?

If your STEM Ph.D. immigrant visa petition is denied, that means that USCIS has reviewed your petition and determined that you don’t qualify to receive an immigrant visa. 

If you feel USCIS rejected your petition in error, you can work with an immigration lawyer to appeal the decision. Note that appeals are only valid if it can be proven that USCIS made an error. If the decision they made complies with immigration law or policy, the decision cannot be successfully appealed. For example: if your background check yielded unfavorable results that caused USCIS to find you inadmissible, an appeal won’t change your situation. 

Denied applicants are able to apply again, but they’ll have to start the process from scratch. You can’t amend or modify a petition after it’s been filed. You need to file a whole new petition and resubmit your evidence. You’ll also be pushed to the back of the line, which means you’ll need to endure the waiting process from the beginning. 

It’s very important to work with an experienced immigration attorney when filing for an immigrant visa. An experienced attorney will have a thorough understanding of the evidence USCIS is looking for. They’ll also be able to spot errors in your petition that may lead to a denial. A second set of experienced eyes can save you a lot of time by reducing the chances that your petition will be denied.

Getting Legal Assistance With the STEM Ph.D. Green Card Process

Immigrant visas are hard to come by. The criteria for an EB-1A visa can be hard to meet, and the competition for the EB-2 visa can be high. It helps to begin the process with the assistance of an experienced immigration lawyer to maximize your chances of successfully obtaining your visa. The legal team at Cohen, Tucker + Ades may be able to help. Contact us for a consultation regarding your STEM Ph.D. green card case.


USCIS Clarifies Guidance for EB-1 Eligibility Criteria | USCIS

Employment-Based Immigration: Second Preference EB-2 | USCIS

Employment-Based Immigrant Visas | US Department of State | Bureau of Consular Affairs

The expansion of doctoral education and the changing nature and purpose of the doctorate | Higher Education


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