The landscape of U.S. immigration for STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) professionals has seen significant changes in recent years. In January 2022, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) revised its policy guidance, impacting two key visa categories: the EB-2 National Interest Waiver (NIW) and the O-1A nonimmigrant status for individuals of extraordinary ability. Here are some data trends observed in these categories from Fiscal Year (FY) 2018 to FY 2023, highlighting the implications of these policy updates.
Key Changes in USCIS Policy Guidance
The EB-2 category allows certain noncitizens with advanced degrees or exceptional abilities to self-petition for an employment-based immigrant visa. The NIW exempts them from securing a job offer and obtaining labor certification. The updated policy provides clearer guidelines for STEM professionals and entrepreneurs on demonstrating their eligibility for this waiver. Similarly, the O-1A category, for individuals with extraordinary abilities in various fields, including STEM, saw policy revisions clarifying eligibility criteria.
EB-2 Petition Trends
Post-policy revision, there was a noticeable increase in EB-2 petitions. From FY 2021 to FY 2022, total receipts of EB-2 petitions rose by 20%, with a further 10% increase into FY 2023. Although approval rates remained high (above 90%), there was a decline in approvals from FY 2022 to FY 2023.
Interestingly, total STEM job category receipts decreased by about 13% from FY 2022 to FY 2023, while non-STEM categories saw a 28% increase. This shift indicates a broadening interest in the EB-2 category beyond traditional STEM fields.
Rising Use of National Interest Waivers
A significant trend is the increasing number of petitioners requesting National Interest Waivers. From FY 2021 to FY 2023, there was a substantial rise in NIW petitions, nearly doubling in number. This uptick reflects the growing recognition of the importance of STEM professionals to national interests.
O-1A Petition Trends
The O-1A category also experienced growth, with a 29% increase in total receipts from FY 2021 to FY 2022 and a slight increase in FY 2023. Approval rates for these petitions remained stable at over 90%. Notably, approvals for STEM-related O-1A petitions increased significantly, indicating the strong demand for high-skilled STEM professionals.
The updated USCIS policy guidance has not only led to an increase in EB-2 and O-1A petitions but also broadened the scope of these categories. As the demand for specialized skills in the U.S. continues to evolve, these trends offer valuable insights for prospective immigrants and policymakers alike.