Do I need to speak English to apply for a visa: 5 minutes read
The United States is an officially English-speaking country. A good part of its population, about 80%, speaks only English. However, the number of speakers of other languages has been growing since the end of the last century. According to a Census Bureau report1, the number of people who speak a language other than English has been tripling: it has grown from 23.1 million in 1980 to 67.8 million in 2019. The role that immigrants have played in this population growth is undeniable.
Now, although this figure is relatively high, speakers of other languages remain few in comparison and the prospect of a bilingual future in the United States2 continues to be viewed with some pessimism. It is natural to wonder, then, whether the U.S. government requires us to speak English to apply for a visa and, in particular, whether it is a requirement to apply for a visa as competitive as the EB-2 National Interest Waiver (NIW)3.
Against this backdrop, we have good news for you. For the EB-2 National Interest EB-2, the USCIS does not require English proficiency tests. In other words, it does not give or ask for language tests, as it does for naturalization4.
So I don't need to know English...? The answer is not as easy as it seems.
Most visas, including the National Interest EB-2 (NIW), do not explicitly require English language skills. However, before assuming that language is not relevant, it is crucial to understand the subtlety surrounding this aspect.
Documentation must be submitted in English.
First, the visa application and application process with the immigration authorities involves the submission of detailed documentation of the applicant’s ability and intent. Herein lies the importance of English: the documentation must be clear and understandable to the immigration authorities.
In the context of the EB-2 National Interest Waiver (NIW), USCIS expects the applicant to demonstrate through organized paperwork significant accomplishments in his or her field. Lack of English proficiency could result in the submission of confusing or misinterpreted documentation. This may weaken the credibility of the case.
In addition, throughout the process, effective communication between the applicant, his or her legal team, and the appropriate immigration authorities is essential to demonstrate intent to contribute to the advancement of the specific industry or field in the United States. And English remains the language in which that communication takes place.
English is an inherent part of the applicant's project.
When applying for a National Interest Based (NIW) EB-2, the applicant must propose a project that demonstrates a national interest5 or otherwise assists in the advancement of the country. That project is a promise of impact and contribution to the United States as a whole. The government expects the immigrant to contribute to the population at large. As we have seen, that population speaks mostly English.
So the ability to clearly articulate your accomplishments, your goals and your purpose in English will not only significantly strengthen the application and facilitate an accurate assessment by the immigration authorities. It is often understood that the applicant must speak English in order to fulfill the promise with which he or she is applying for a visa.
English is not the only thing that opens doors to the US.
USCIS offers alternatives to ensure a fair evaluation of your application when English is not your strong suit. The agency provides interpretation services during interviews and may accept documents in other languages, as long as they are accompanied by a certified English translation.
However, having a legal team that specializes in immigration law is an invaluable advantage in these cases. A lawyer with extensive experience in these types of applications can not only facilitate the proper translation of your documents but can also structure your application strategically, maximizing the chances of approval.
(A good legal team not only deals with the formal aspects but can also help you articulate your case effectively, even if your English proficiency is not optimal. Their experience can make the difference between a standard application and one that highlights your worth and contributions in a compelling way.
English plays an invisible but essential role in applying for an EB-2 National Interest as well as other visa categories. But, for those whose language proficiency is not as strong, the alternatives offered by USCIS and the support of a good law firm, experienced in immigration law, broaden the spectrum of opportunities. The key is to be aware of and take advantage of all the tools available to ensure that your application stands out, regardless of the language barriers you may face.
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