TN Visa and Self-Sponsor Green Card

Question: I have a question regarding self sponsoring for a green card. I am a Canadian RN working on a TN visa. A co-worker of my friend’s, who is also a Canadian RN, informed my friend that she was able to get her green card a few years ago through self sponsoring. She emphatically states that her workplace, the hospital, did not sponsor her. I have never heard of this. In addition, I have consulted the lawyer who works for the company with which I work. He said there is no such process. Is this a possible or real option for me for obtaining permanent residency?

Reply: Some individuals may in fact self-petition for lawful permanent residence (i.e. a green card). For example, Workers with Extraordinary Ability, eligible under the Employment Based First preference category (“EB1”), do not need an employer to sponsor them for a green card. The EB1 category for Workers with Extraordinary Ability is available for individuals who have risen to the very top of their field in the Sciences, Arts, Education, Business, or Athletics.

Individuals can also self-petition for a green card under the EB-2 category based on a National Interest Waiver (“NIW”). A NIW is available for individuals who qualify under the EB2 category and meet the following three elements: (1) The employment is in an area of substantial intrinsic merit; (2) The benefit of their employment must be national in scope; and (3) The individual would serve the national interest to a substantially greater degree than would an available U.S. worker having the same minimal qualifications.

Additionally, individuals can obtain a green card without an employer sponsor under the EB-5 category by establishing a commercial enterprise and investing at least $1 million in the business. This investment amount may be reduced to $500,000 if the investment is made in a “targeted employment area.”

A Registered Nurse is available for a special green card application process known as Schedule A, which allows a RN to skip the first stage required of most green card applications (the PERM labor certification stage that involves a testing of the labor market for potential job applicants).[1] Although RNs can bypass this aspect of the PERM process, under the Schedule A green card category they are still required to have an employer sponsor them for the green card.

Outside the employment based context, individuals can also obtain lawful permanent resident status based on a family relationship, but this process generally requires the family member to sponsor the individual for the green card. There are a few instances where an individual can self-petition for a green card based on a family relationship, but only in extenuating and dire circumstances (e.g. spouses of abusive U.S. citizens).

One other option where an individual can essentially self-petition for a green card is the annual Diversity Visa lottery program. Here individuals from selected countries who meet educational and/or work experience requirements can obtain a green card based on a random computer generated lottery drawing. Individuals born in Canada and Mexico were excluded from the most recent DV lottery, which  ended on Nov. 30, 2009, because both countries had "sent" too many immigrants to the U.S. during the past five years. However, a native of Canada or Mexico can still take advantage of the DV lottery if his or her spouse was born in one of the eligible countries.

[1] The three green card categories above also do not require the PERM process.