Most of the foreign-born students who are sponsored by their employers for permanent residence in the U.S. must undergo the PERM process. But are there any alternatives to PERM processing? Yes. The law provides that a select minority of applicants for lawful permanent residence may bypass the Labor Department, and may commence their application by directly petitioning the USCIS.
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Shortage Occupations – Alternatives to PERM #1
Labor Department regulations designate certain occupations which are determined to be chronically short of workers and exempts employers of such workers from the labor certification process. Presently, the regulations list only two occupations: registered nurses and physical therapists.
Priority Workers – Alternatives to PERM #2
The Immigration Act of 1990 rewrote much of the employment-based immigration provisions contained in prior law. It created a new classification scheme for employment-based immigrants and exempted many of them from the labor certification process. The largest category of persons exempted from labor certification are called priority workers.
By definition, a person of extraordinary ability is one who belongs to that “small percentage” that have “risen to the very top of the field of endeavor.” Should you qualify for this category, the law does not require that you be sponsored by a particular employer. However, the documentation requirements for inclusion in this category are demanding. Your extraordinary ability must be in one of the following fields: the arts, sciences, athletics, business or education.
The second subcategory, outstanding professors and researchers, requires that you be internationally recognized as outstanding in your specific academic area and that you meet certain other requirements (such as three years teaching or researching experience in the field and a tenure or tenure-track position).
The third subcategory, for multinational executives and managers, is little used by foreign students since it requires you to be employed abroad as an executive or manager for at least one of the past three years.
National Interest Waivers – Alternatives to PERM #3
Another exception to PERM requires that you possess either an advanced degree or are of exceptional ability in the arts, sciences or business, and that your immigration to the U.S. would be in the national interest.
The USCIS has set forth the following seven factors which may be considered in defining national interest: Would your employment (1) improve the U.S. economy, (2) improve the wages and working conditions of U.S. workers, (3) improve education and training programs for U.S. children and under-qualified workers, (4) improve health care, (5) provide more affordable housing for young and/or older poorer U.S. residents, (6) improve the environment and make more productive use of natural resources, or (7) did you come to the U.S. at the request of a U.S. Government agency?
Persons of Exceptional Ability – Alternatives to PERM #4
To show that you are a person of exceptional ability in the sciences, arts, or business, your employer must submit a visa petition to the USCIS. The petition must be accompanied by at least three of the following items:
- An official academic record showing that the alien has a degree, diploma, certificate, or similar award from a college, university, school, or other institution of learning relating to the area of exceptional ability;
- Evidence in the form of letter(s) from current or former employer(s) showing that the alien has at least ten years of full-time experience in the occupation for which he or she is being sought;
- A license to practice the profession or certification for a particular profession or occupation;
- Evidence that the alien has commanded a salary, or other remuneration for services, which demonstrates exceptional ability;
- Evidence of membership in professional associations; or
- Evidence of recognition for achievements and significant contributions to the industry or field by peers, governmental entities, or professional or business organizations.
If the above standards do not readily apply to your occupation, your employer may submit comparable evidence to establish your eligibility.
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Carl Shusterman served as an INS Trial Attorney (1976-82) before opening a firm specializing exclusively in US immigration law. He is a Certified Specialist in Immigration Law who has testified as an expert witness before the US Senate Immigration Subcommittee. Carl was featured in the February 2018 edition of SuperLawyers Magazine.