How I cracked the EB1A Green Card as a Product Manager in Health Tech
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I thought a lot about putting this out there in the wild, but I know how helpful it would’ve been for me to have learned from a real person’s research and experience as opposed to the many legal websites that only provide cookie cutter information. And hence this article.
I came to the United States in 2009 and despite receiving two engineering degrees in the USA, paying a few hundred thousand dollars in college tuition, and kick-starting my tech career in the silicon valley in 2015, I knew so little about how complex the employment-based immigration process was. Right from failing to win the H-1B lottery a couple times to having an unfavorable EB2 ‘priority date’, I was basically told that I should let go of any desires of permanent residency in the USA simply because of where I was born. I couldn’t help but think I had to resort to fate and feel comforted in the fact that it was the one common frustration uniting me and several of my immigrant friends from India and China.
I’m writing this article not just to walk you through exactly how I strategized and positioned my EB1A petition, but also to hopefully break the myth that you have to be a nobel-prize-winning-researcher-turned-entrepreneur to crack the EB1A. Granted, it requires you to have a few merit-worthy achievements to your credit, but with the right mindset, research and legal team to guide you, you can have a pretty decent shot at it.
Disclaimer: The information provided in this article does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal advice; instead, all information, content, and materials in this article are for general informational purposes only.
Tip #1: Find your Niche.
The EB1A, as the USCIS states, is awarded to those who “demonstrate extraordinary ability in the sciences, arts, education, business, or athletics through sustained national or international acclaim”. What this really means is that as a petitioner, you’re asked to demonstrate that you are literally one of the very few people in a highly important/niche industry who have really risen to the top of your field through (hopefully unquestionable) evidence. And that the US can indeed benefit from retaining folks like you permanently in the country. In other words, you’re either a very large shark in the sea, or a big fish in a small pond. In my case, I was already in a very niche & burgeoning industry (Digital Health & Therapeutics) of discernible importance to the US and had established myself as a product leader with noteworthy accomplishments through work and outside and therefore decided to position my petition around this. My advice to you if you’re considering the EB1A with your current career path, would be to think of your industry and role a bit more deeply and how you might position your current experience as one which is unique and in a domain or function where there aren’t many other experts.
Tip #2: Don’t overdo the criteria
I was told by a few people (some lawyers included) that you had to apply for as many criteria as you can — all 10 of them, if possible. And I felt extremely overwhelmed thinking about just 3 that I would meet well, let alone 10. I can vouch from my personal case and a few other winning ones I know of that you really only need to strongly meet 3 criteria, and maybe consider meeting 1 or 2 criteria as a stretch or bonus, if that. Now onto actually evaluating which criteria to work on: Being a PM and having a few noteworthy projects to my merit, I had a good feeling that I could meet the leading and critical role criteria as well as the high salary one, and it was now only trying to establish at least one additional criteria that I would need to pursue from scratch. Here’s how I approached each of the criteria I put in my petition. Please note, again, that it’s generally a good advice to work with your legal team on getting the actual arguments written and reference the appropriate court orders, instead of writing them yourself.
Leading and critical role
For this criteria, you’re asked to present, at minimum, two different projects where you served in the capacity of a leading and critical role. Now, keep in mind that it’s not as simple as having “Lead” or “Manager” in your job title. You have to be able to get letters to demonstrate why (1) your role was considered a leading & critical role to the organization/team, (2) and how exactly your work impacted the organization/team in a positive way (i.e. think revenue/profits earned, customer growth, process efficiency, etc.). I spent a ton of time brainstorming and recalling every detail of past projects I undertook, and selected two roles that would serve as good candidates to discuss in these letters. As a PM, you’re always tasked with meeting and improving upon KPIs set for the product and company, and so it so happened pretty organically that I could present a few roles that would fit the bill here. Another popular myth is that you have to have worked at a large/well-known company to make a compelling case. This is not entirely true, and it’s way more important to be able to demonstrate that the company you worked at does meaningful work and how YOU made an impact on it (not your team or peers, but you).
This is another category where I think there are a lot of misconceptions online on what indeed “high salary” is. To meet this criteria, you have to make sure that the job code you pick has to (1) closely meet your title and job description for other roles with the same or similar titles as stated by BLS and other labor bureaus considered as the gold standard by USCIS, and also be (2) one in which your base salary alone will be over the 90th percentile of the salary listed for that job code, ideally across BLS & O*NET, and for the specific location you work in. Another caveat to keep in mind here is that the evidence used to prove your earnings are W2 statements, so you indeed have to have earned the entire amount that you claim to be over 90% for the salary listed on the job code. It took a bit of finagling to find an SOC code that closely matched my title and job duties as a Product Manager (as there isn’t an exact 1:1 code for a PM yet), but with the right supporting evidence, I was able to justify the choice.
Judging the work of others in your field
This was a category that seemed very intimidating at first but is one of the rather “objective” categories you can conquer, especially being in tech. There are several organizations like the Stevie and CODiE Awards that hold annual contests to find and merit innovative products and services in tech, and are constantly on the lookout for product experts to volunteer their time and effort in judging the contestants. I applied to be a judge for a few of these organizations, and gathered evidence of providing my feedback and ratings on product pitches in my line of work, which was evidence enough to meet this category.
This is another category, similar to judging, that can actually be worked on from scratch even if you don’t have noteworthy papers or articles to your credit. What’s asked of the candidate here is to showcase depth of knowledge in their field of expertise and in publications that have a wide reader/viewer base. For tech folks that are not doing active research & publications, what this means is getting your work featured in tech magazines like Tech Crunch, developer sites like GitHub, or even here on Medium. Note that the engagement on the actual article you write doesn’t matter but (1) the popularity of the site (views, ratings) and (2) the relevance of the site and the content of your article to your field of expertise does. Being an active product blogger myself and having a few well researched articles to my credit on noteworthy online publications helped make this criteria a bit more accessible for me.
Tip #3: Shine in all your glory on the Final Merits section
The final merits section is one that I had little to no clue about until I started to work on my petition, but this truly is where the applicant can showcase their expertise outside the guardrails of the 10 criteria. While the (1) intent letter, (2) letters of recommendation from other experts in the field recommending your candidacy and (3) evidence on why your field is considered to be of national importance make the main components of this section, you also have the chance to share other achievements including testimonials from your colleagues, evidence of speaking or presenting at other events, awards or patents to your name (which may not qualify as strong enough to suffice an entire category but are still noteworthy). I was already engaged in several speaking gigs outside of work, had won a few performance awards at work and through volunteering experiences and had saved copies of pictures, testimonials and certificates that came in handy while putting together this section. Keep in mind that the final merits section cannot be used in place of one of the 3 categories, but is used to evaluate the candidate in totality (once the 3 criteria have been deemed as sufficiently met by the reviewer) to confirm that you have indeed risen to the very top of your field. This was one of the sections I had the most fun putting together and also gave my legal team a full picture of my strengths, which also helped them draft a strong cover letter to present my candidacy.
Putting it all together
The EB1A route is not for everyone, but I do believe that some career paths make this journey a little more achievable than others. It was indeed a labor of love — one that I invested 9+ months of my life in putting together — writing, and rewriting the arguments, dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s, but with the support of a strong legal team and my amazing mentors and colleagues, I was able to put together a petition I felt strongly about. My advice to anyone considering this path would be to go with your gut, be ready for several curve balls along the way but also realize the fact that you have not a whole lot to lose in trying.
Got more questions?
If you’ve come this far into the article — thank you for your time and I hope you found this insightful. Consider getting my discovery guide if you’d like the more in-depth (100 page!) version of this article. I’ve also partnered with the renown and proven Smart Green Card to develop course content and support EB1A applicants, so check that out as well!