The Intersection between Green Chemistry and US Immigration Law

Green Chemistry, or sustainable chemistry, is a relative new field of chemistry. Essentially, it involves the study of, and search for, chemical processes that reduce or eliminate negative environmental impacts. Given the modern-day awareness of our environmental footprint, the green chemistry field has been growing in leaps and bounds. Government and private industry alike are looking for greener ways of living and conducting business. But what does this have to do with US Immigration Law?

It goes without saying that continued research in the field of Green Chemistry requires the ability to hire scientists. However, the pool of American Scientists is shrinking. Talented and ambitious young Americans are increasingly choosing careers in finance and law over the science and engineering. As a result, American labs have had no choice but to look oversees for scientific minds. Fortunately, scientists from abroad are not in short supply. But bringing scientists to the US requires a basic understanding of US Immigration Laws.

Boiled down to its most simple terms, there are a few immigration options that work particularly well for foreign scientist- both on a temporary and permanent basis. Foreign scientists usually enter the US initially with one of the following types of temporary visas: F Visas/ Optional Practical Training (OPT), J Visas, H-1B Visas and O Visas. Deciding which visa option is most appropriate depends on the individual’s background and achievements, as well as the nature of the position offered.

While these temporary visas permit an employer to bring a scientist to the US, each one of the above visas is associated with a limited period of stay in the US. In order to retain a foreign scientist beyond that fixed period of stay, the employer will have to sponsor the individual for lawful permanent residence status, or a “green card.” Lawful permanent residents are permitted to live and work in the US indefinitely. US Immigration law permits scientists to apply for a green card, or immigrant visa, based upon their educational level and ability. While there are several ways to obtain an employment-based immigrant visa, the following options should be considered by scientists: Outstanding Researchers and Professors, National Interest Waivers and Schedule A, Group II.

An example will help to illustrate. Dr. Suri, a young scientist educated in his native India, earns his PhD in Chemistry. Upon completing his PhD studies, Dr. Suri looks for a post doctoral fellowship position in the field of green chemistry, where he feels he can make an impact. He is particularly interested in the possibility of transitioning from petroleum based feedstock to renewable plant-based feedstock. After reading the publications of Dr. Bell, a professor at an American university with international recognition in the field of green chemistry, Dr. Suri reaches out to him and is offered a research position in Dr. Bell’s lab.

But Dr. Suri will need a visa in order to live and work in the US. Dr. Bell will have to sponsor him for a visa. Depending upon his credentials, as well as the requirements and restrictions of each visa category, Drs. Suri and Bell will need to determine which of the above visa options might be appropriate. If the employment relationship is successful, and depending on what Dr. Suri is able to accomplish in his chosen field, Dr. Suri and Bell will have to decide which of the above green card options is most appropriate. It is advisable to make these decisions in consultation with an immigration attorney, but what is important to point out is that foreign scientists have some excellent immigration options that can be utilized.

NPZ Law Group, PC, Immigration and Nationality Law, with offices in New Jersey, New York and Toronto- Victoria Donoghue, Esq. is the Chair of the firm’s Sustainability Division (