By Susan E. Hill
We handle many O visas and green cards for Extraordinary Ability people, and quite often people don’t believe they qualify until they talk to us. “Extraordinary ability” is a generic category which covers most occupations and fields. You hear of actors and sports figures using the category, but it also covers academics, business people, the arts and the sciences. It includes behind-the scenes occupations as well.
The standard is easier to reach than what many people think. Here is a breakdown that explains away some common misconceptions.
It is based on achievements, not skill or experience
Extraordinary Ability focuses on achievements that can be documented and proven, so you must make sure that your resume and evidence focus on your accomplishments, rather than experience. USCIS gives numerous “criteria”, or markers of achievement that it wants to see: find them all here for O visas, and they are somewhat similar for the green card. They vary depending on your field, but they include, for example: awards and prizes; published work; original contributions to the field; working for distinguished entities; judging the work of others; and many more. Extraordinary Ability cases are built on physical evidence of your particular achievements, and should provide explanation about why those achievements are significant.
You can narrow your field
You can show that you work in a smaller, niche field, which is less competitive than a larger, general field. For example, a Horse Trainer can carve out the niche for developing young horses in a certain competition division or breed. Or a Creative Director’s niche could be digital platforms for the genre of self-help books.
You don’t have to be famous or newsworthy
You are compared to the rest of people in your field, but you don’t have to be the very best or famous. For O visas, you can be in the top 15 or 20 percent of your field; for EB-1 green cards, it is more stringent. You do need sustained achievements going back at least a few years immediately before filing your application—with a recent record, older achievements are also very valuable.
The criteria of achievements don’t always apply literally
If you think creatively, the USCIS “criteria” markers for achievement don’t have to apply literally. For example, “membership in an association” could include a national sports squad where the athletes are selected based on achievement. Or “judging the work of others” could include teaching a clinic or serving on a selection committee. USCIS recognizes that not all occupations will offer the same type of achievement markers, so it also allows “comparable evidence.”
If you are a key person, then your employer’s achievements can be used
All high achievers have a team behind them, whose assistance propelled them to success. If you are in one of those “behind-the-scenes” occupations, you can still qualify because your skilled contribution was essential to the final product. For example, a physiotherapist who works on nationally ranked athletes, or a stage manager for acclaimed events.
Letters from experts and peers provide valuable context, if they are detailed
“Recommendation letters” can be a great tool, but they have to be detailed and explain why the author believes you are recognized in the top of your field. The author must go through your achievements and provide context for why they are considered significant. A generalized letter stating that you are “skilled” or “accomplished” or “recommended” will not suffice. You should work closely with your attorney to help shape these letters.
We provide a free screening of your achievements to see if you may have a case. Sometimes it may take an additional consultation to go over everything in detail and develop a case. The screening is in English only—if you don’t speak English, you can have your proposed U.S. employer or client assist you. More information here.
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