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Webinar Recap — EB-2 NIW for Pilots: Yes or No – Let the Debate Begin!

Marianella Manzur, William Dale Whitice
Updated 05.05.24 9 minutes read
ImmigrationPrevious Events

The subject of pilot eligibility for the EB-2 NIW visa program is sometimes a divisive one in the immigration industry. Do pilots fall under this program? Is this the best path forward for pilots wishing to work in the United States? How should a pilot approach the application process for the EB-2 NIW visa?

These were some of the questions we wanted to answer in our webinar, EB-2 NIW for Pilots: Yes or No – Let the Debate Begin!, and we got all that and more!

Our special guest for this webinar was William Dale Whitice, an experienced immigration lawyer and airline pilot who specializes in helping clients qualify for the EB-2 NIW program. Together with webinar host Marianella Manzur, our panel explored everything from the background of the EB-2 NIW program to the role of pilots on the US economy and much more. Among many others, they discussed the answers to these questions:

  • What are the reasons for the controversy behind this topic?
  • Are pilots considered “extraordinary”, and why?
  • How can pilots be considered for EB-2 NIW petitions?
  • What specific requirements must pilots meet to get the EB-2 NIW Visa?
  • What documents will be considered sufficient evidence of the pilots’ exceptional skills, unique contributions, and professional achievements in either case?

You can watch the full webinar or read the highlights below.

The basics of the EB-2 NIW visa program

Basically, the EB-2 NIW is requesting that the USCIS waive the job offer requirement to immigrate to the United States. What the petitioner is basically saying is, ‘I don’t need a job offer per se because I’m so exceptional That it would benefit the United States to let me work and to proceed with my endeavor in the country.

Those processes have been laid out in a case called Matter of Dhanasar that was decided in 2016, which broadened the field of those eligible to apply under the EB-2 visa. Prior to that, most of the people who were applying under the EB-2 were scientists, researchers, and medical doctors. But after the 2016 decision, several lawyers saw the opportunity and broadened the field and started offering this visa to pilots because they met the criteria in lots of ways, based upon, at the time, what many perceived to be a gigantic need in the country.

What is the “exceptional” standard for the EB-2 NIW visa?

A person can be considered exceptional if they can demonstrate that their endeavor has substantial merit or national importance, that they’re well positioned to advance the endeavor and that they will benefit the United States by waiving the job offer.

Even if they’re deemed to be exceptional, that’s still not enough just to get into the country. People think, ‘Oh look, I have ten years of experience and I have a license to fly jets and I make a good salary. I’m automatically eligible.’ That’s not the case.

One of the requirements is that you have to show an academic record with a degree or diploma or certification in the area in which you’re going to be proceeding with the endeavor in the country. If you don’t have that, you have to have at least 10 years of experience in your chosen field that you wish to pursue in the United States.

Then you have to have a license to practice that profession or certification. And the evidence that you’ve commanded a salary in the field you’re in, or other enumeration for your services. One of the other requirements is membership in a professional association, and the documents would prove recognition for achievements and significant contributions.

If you meet three of those six criteria, you are considered exceptional.

What’s the current situation for pilots in the airline industry?

Right now, the industry is in flux. Many airlines are experiencing delays in getting new planes to the point where they have actually stopped hiring. United has put a hiring freeze for May and June, and they said that they might start in July, but that hasn’t been decided yet. Boeing is working very hard to get their quality control under control, and the FAA has recently put a watch on them. Basically, they’ve said that they’re going to have a higher presence in the operations. They’re going to be looking at their manuals are going to be looking at their training and every aspect of the airline’s operations.

Another issue you have is with the grounding of these 320 planes. Airlines are not able to continue with their expansion plans. That’s putting a little bit of a damper on the hiring. But it’s a temporary situation. We still have a pilot shortage. We still have a large number of pilots who are over the age of 45 who are going to be retiring within the next 20 years.

I’ve heard statistics up to 55 to 60%. I’ve seen other studies that show a little bit less. It depends on how you look at the numbers, but that also does not entail the medical, um, disabilities that occur to people as they age and also people who want early retirement. We have about 14 to 15 pilots a day turning 65 in the country.

If you take that times 365, you can see the vast number of pilots that are leaving the industry because of the age 65 rule. Plus, you have people leaving for medical reasons as well. So, we are experiencing a large gap, not with the pilots we have right now, but with the pilots in the pipeline.

That is the problem we have in the United States — we do not have a sufficient number of pilots in the pipeline, and that is exasperated by a rule that was passed by Congress many years ago. After a crash in Buffalo, where the pilots, both of them, were a little bit less than experienced, and they were tired, and it resulted in a crash, and a lot of people were killed, it was a very tragic accident, the families pressured the FAA and the Congress, and they passed a rule saying that no one can fly for a 121 carrier unless they have 1,500 hours of flight time.

That hurt a lot of guys who used commuter airlines as a way to get into the airline industry. Now, they aren’t even eligible to fly for a commuter. You have to have 1,500 hours. It’s hard to get 1,500 hours if you don’t have any money to pay for it. The military used to be our big pipeline, but the military is having a pilot shortage as well.

Disclaimer: Joorney is not a law firm nor an immigration consulting firm, and all information provided in this document should not be considered as legal advice or any advice or recommendation on any immigration application program. All information provided in this document should be verified by a licensed or certified immigration professional before the reader can act on this information. As such, it is understood that Joorney, LLC. shall not be liable for any loss or damage of whatever nature (direct, indirect, consequential, or other), whether arising in contract, tort, or otherwise, which may arise as a result of your use of (or inability to use) this document, or from your use of (or failure to use) the information on this document.