A national interest waiver is an authorization from the United States government allowing someone to obtain legal residency on the grounds that the person's presence in the United States would be beneficial to the national interest. The advantage to this certification is that it does not require the applicant to have a job offer and labor certification, allowing a person to enter and seek work, essentially sponsoring her own petition for residency. These waivers are difficult to obtain, and it can be helpful to meet with an immigration attorney to discuss options and decide on the best path to take to residency and citizenship.
A person would contribute to the national interest by growing the US economy, improving conditions for low income Americans, or contributing to the education and social advancement of people in the United States. Thus, someone who could help a company develop better and more effective products might qualify, as would a doctor prepared to work in impoverished areas, or a teacher who wants to provide education or teach skills to people in the United States. All of these individuals would provide a positive contribution to the American life and economy, and may receive a national interest waiver.
National interest waivers are generally available to people with advanced training and degrees, as well as formal professional recognition for their skills. A simple medical degree might not be enough to qualify, but a doctor with published research and awards would probably receive a national interest waiver. Likewise, simply having advanced training in a field like physics is not sufficient; someone must have demonstrated and documented abilities with potential benefits to the United States.
Usually, people who want to seek residency in the United States need a sponsor. This ensures that people will be able to support themselves or receive support without having to rely on the government. A spouse or family member may sponsor an immigration application, or an applicant can present a job offer and labor certification to show the government he plans on working, has a job offer, and is prepared to start work as soon as the government grants the petition for residency. The national interest waiver provides a method of bypassing the need for a sponsor by showing that an immigrant has skills of intrinsic value.
The government's standards for the national interest waiver are stiff, and people need to be able to provide supporting documentation, as well as compelling arguments to qualify. The number of national interest waivers the government makes available is limited, especially when the United States is experiencing economic problems and may be unwilling to support more foreign nationals.