From F-1 to Green Card: A Student’s Journey with the EB1-A Application

A few weeks ago, I was still an international student who didn’t have an H1B and prepared to give up my job and leave the US as my F-1 VISA (STEM OPT) was expiring in 5 months. Today, I am happy to share the great news that my EB1-A (Alien of Extraordinary Ability) application for permanent residency (i.e., green card) got approved at the Nebraska Service Center (NSC).

NSC adjudicates EB1-A cases from professors, scholars, and scientists who work at prestigious universities and tech companies in major metropolitan areas in CA, WA, NY, etc. When I tried to apply with only 198 citations, many people and even lawyers have explicitly told me that nowadays, it is NOT possible for an EB1A case to get approved with less than 500 or maybe 1,000 citations at NSC. But I said to myself, “no, it is necessary.” After 4 months of hard work, I put together an 8-lb package with hundreds of pages and a $3,200 check to USCIS. 9 days later, I received an email that my case was approved.

Although I was disheartened to find out that I didn’t win the H1B lottery not once, not twice, but SIX times, this unfortunate experience has taught me that you should never let a random draw of luck decide what you deserve. I would rather be called unworthy than be called unlucky.

So, I want to share my experience of self-petition EB1-A application to help all the international students out there, especially my Chinese and Indian friends who are struggling with years of waiting for green cards. Yes, there are things you can do to get your EB1-A case approved with low citations and to get your green card without waiting time and sponsorship from your employer.

Although I don’t have the luck on my side for the H1B lottery selection, I am lucky to have those who have helped and supported me through this process. I am genuinely thankful for my professors and colleagues I have worked with, researchers who have cited and followed my work, and people who invited me to speak at conferences, organize conferences, review papers, and connect me with others.

Big shouts out to my employer, Bristol Myers Squibb, who hired me when I only have one chance left in the H1B lottery and proactively explored other options (O-1) for me.

I also couldn’t do this alone without the help of someone who has gone through this process himself. He is not a lawyer but has helped many international students with only 100ish citations or less to get EB1A approval. Please reach out to him on LinkedIn (

Story told by Zhi Yang

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