Merit-Based Visa Categories: A Strong Constant in Uncertain Times

By David Cantor

Throughout the span of four-years, the United States immigration framework has faced unprecedented times. The main governing entities – the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and Department of State (DoS) – have made distinctive regulatory changes in order to carry out various, larger policy-oriented goals, namely rooted in national security and economic concerns.

Overall, it has been challenging times for many US visa holders and prospective applicants across visa categories to plan, as well as determine the path of least resistance based on your priorities and goals.

Despite the seemingly endless challenges and uncertainties we have faced, there seems to be one US immigration pathway that has proven both reliable and promising for qualified applicants – merit-based visa categories.

In essence, applicants that qualify will be receiving a US visa based on their own qualifications and achievements. While it helps, you do not need to have won the Nobel Peace prize – rather, you should consider this if you have specific professional experiences that seem novel and unique.

There is also no limit on the “type of profession” – and at Davies & Associates we have represented a diverse range of clients, including but not limited to: Foreign Medical Professionals (i.e. doctors, nurses, researchers), Academics and Professors, Business Executives and Entrepreneurs, Artists, Engineers, and much more.

Generally, you should be considering a merit-based visa category if you are able to provide some of the following:

  • Publications & citations of your work;
  • Proof that you have been recognized for your work (i.e. awards);
  • Evidence that you have achieved a higher-level degree and that you are established in your respective profession;
  • Notable letters of recommendation from others in your industry attesting for your qualifications;
  • Membership of relevant associations, boards and professional organizations related to your work;
  • And other core documentary proof demonstrating that you’ve risen to a certain level of expertise in your field.

Now, these are really general terms for what you should be considering for merit-based visa categories, and obviously there is a lot more due-diligence and work that goes into a prospective application. If you believe you may qualify, we would be glad to provide a more detailed consultation, and request that you complete one of our merit-based questionnaires.

For those that do qualify – merit-based visa categories present numerous advantages. To begin with, you are essentially being granted a visa based on your own achievements and expertise.

Some visa categories do not even require you to have a job-offer or an employer sponsor in the United States, so you are actually petitioning yourself (read more about the National Interest Waiver program). Moreover, with a sound immigration strategy many of merit-based visa categories will lead to permanent residence and a Green Card.

How do I know if I qualify for a Merit-Based Visa?

At Davies & Associates our expert team of legal specialists will provide a thorough review to determine your initial eligibility. We would first review your professional portfolio (i.e. CV/resume) and request that you complete our detailed merit-based questionnaire (please send an email to meritbased@usimmigrationadvisor.com)

What are the Merit-Based Visa Categories?

Merit-based visas can be broken down into two main categories: non-immigrant and immigrant. Generally speaking, Non-Immigrant visas are temporary and permit a candidate to live and work in the United States, while Immigrant-based visas lead to permanent residency (Green Card). Oftentimes, depending on the objectives and specific criteria of our clients we will combine visas and present an overall immigration strategy. Some of the most common visa categories include and is not limited to: L-1 / P-1 / O-1 / J-1 / H-1B / EB-1 / EB-2 / NIW.

How long does it take to get a Green Card?

The processing times for building a merit-based visa application will depend on several factors: visa category, specifics of the client’s case, current processing times, and more. Generally speaking, the merit-based visa categories have received favorable and current processing times when compared to other visa categories as a result of the current administration policies. While processing times are subject to change, many of our clients were able to obtain their visas within 9-12 months from respective US consulates.

What type of professionals will qualify for merit-based visas?

As mentioned above, there is no limitation to the “type of professional” that may qualify. You can be a successful businessman, inventor, entrepreneur, medical professional, actuary, physical therapist, TV or Social Media personality, acclaimed artist, software or aeronautical engineer.


The important question is whether you have the credentials to qualify, regardless of the type of professional you are. In general, the more you can demonstrate that you are established and recognized in your respective career the stronger viability you may have for filing. The criteria for qualifying is very specific – so our team of experts will evaluate specific requirements (i.e. # of publications/citations, awards, membership on professional organizations and boards, etc.).

What is the visa process for merit-based visa applications?

Please read our previous article about this HERE.

I believe I qualify for a Merit-Based Visa – what are the next steps?

Contact us today and we will be glad to provide a tailored-consultation: meritbased@usimmigrationadvisor.com

This article is published for clients, friends and other interested visitors for information purposes only. The contents of the article do not constitute legal advice and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Davies & Associates or any of its attorneys, staff or clients. External links are not an endorsement of the content.


National Interest Exception: Traveling to the United States during Covid19

By David Cantor, Global Director of Client Relations, Davies & Associates

Recent months have proven to complicate matters for those seeking to travel to the United States. This is especially concerning for those that have serious matters to attend to within the United States – whether it be issues related directly business, academics or family.  

On July 20th, 2020, the US Embassy and Consulates General in Italy resumed certain immigrant and non-immigrant visa processing services – including appointments for treaty-investors, exchange visitors and students, as well as athletes and entertainers. This is also true for the US Embassies Consulates in other European locations, with certain exceptions – such as Paris, London and Belfast.

While there is still much uncertainty surrounding the existing travel bans as it applies to foreign nationals and specifically those in the Schengen region – it seems that some US Embassies and Consulates, as well as US Customs and Border Control authorities are beginning to provide practical guidance and potential pathways that permit temporary travel into the United States.

On July 15th, 2020 certain travelers from Schengen countries, including Italy, were permitted to resume travel into the United States through the National Interest Exemption. In order to be granted permission to travel from the Schengen region, an applicant must submit a National Interest Exemption request directly to the respective Consulate.

The National Interest Exemption (“NIE”) is best applied to those that are seeking to travel to the United States as Students (F1 and M1 visas), Researchers (J1 visa), Investors (E2), or for temporary business matters (B1 or ESTA).

To be considered for the NIE it is necessary that you qualify for one of the exemptions listed in the Presidential Proclamation, summarized below:

ECONOMIC BENEFIT EXCEPTION. An applicant must prove that the temporary travel to the United States will provide substantial economic benefit to the US economy. Qualified applicants through the national interest exception may include:

  • Technical experts and specialists
  •  Senior-Level managers and executives
  • Professional athletes, dependents and essential staff
  • Treaty-investors and traders

ACADEMICS & STUDENTS. An applicant should be participating in a bona-fide exchange program or full-time course of study. Qualified applicants through the national interest exception may include:

  • Full-time students
  • Professors
  • Research Scholars
  • Short-term Scholars
  • Other specialists 

I have a valid ESTA, can I travel to the United States?

If you have a valid ESTA and are coming from the Schengen region you still need to apply for the National Interest Exception (NIE) in order to be granted permission to travel.

I have a valid B1, E2, J1, O1, or F1 visa – can I travel to the United States?

If you hold a B1, E2, J1, O1, M1 or F1 visa, you still need to apply for the NIE in order to be granted permission to travel to the United States.

How do I apply for the NIE?

Supporting documentation must be sent directly to the Embassy or Consulate of your region of residence.  Contact us today to learn more.

Italian nationals can submit supporting documentation directly to the respective Consulate – please contact our Italy Practice Team today.

What documents do I need to apply?

This will depend on your local Consulate, however, basic documentation is required (i.e. biographic page of passport, proof of valid US visa or ESTA) as well as supporting documentation in English demonstrating your qualifications for the NIE as well as purpose for travel.

How long does it take to apply for the NIE?

Generally, 30-business days, however, this depends on your local Consulate. As discussed above, as of July 20th, the US Embassy and Consulates General in Italy resumed certain immigrant and non-immigrant visa services. It is very likely that there will be increased wait-times and substantial processing backlogs, so if you believe you qualify, it is encouraged to apply as soon as possible.

Can I include my dependents on the NIE application?

Investors, students and other academics can also include dependents in the NIE request.

I am in the United States, can I apply for the NIE?

No – the consular sections cannot accept NIE requests for those that are physically present in the United States.

How long is the NIE valid for?

Travelers permitted to enter the United States through the national interest exception must do so within-30 days of the approval. This is valid only for a single-entry into the United States.

The total permitted stay will depend on the permitted duration of stay granted  by the US Customs and Border Protection officers at the port of entry.

Is the NIE process complicated?

Since US consulates and embassies are just starting to re-open for routine processing of US visas, the NIE requests are fairly new and untested. We highly encourage you speaking with a qualified US immigration attorney to obtain a free consultation for this matter.

This article is published for clients, friends and other interested visitors for information purposes only. The contents of the article do not constitute legal advice and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Davies & Associates or any of its attorneys, staff or clients.