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The ABCs of Immigration – First Preference Employment Based Immigration – Aliens of Extraordinary Ability
by Greg Siskind and Amy Ballentine

The first employment based immigration preference category covers “priority workers.” These are workers whose skills and talents are important to the US – the “best and brightest.” The annual cap on EB-1 visas is 40,000, plus any visas left over from the fourth and fifth employment based preference categories (special immigrants and immigrant investors). This is more visas than are ordinarily used in the category, so there are no backlogs in visa issuance in this category.

The EB-1 category covers three groups:

  • Aliens of extraordinary ability
  • Outstanding professors and researchers
  • International managers and executives
One of the most attractive aspects of the EB-1 category is that the labor certification requirement does not apply. This makes the time spent processing an EB-1 application much shorter than for categories that do require a labor certification.

Aliens of Extraordinary Ability

This subcategory covers aliens possessing extraordinary ability in the sciences, arts, education, business or athletics. The extraordinary ability subcategory does not require a specific job offer, so long as the alien states that they will continue to work in the field of their extraordinary ability in the US. This means that the alien may file a petition on their own behalf, rather than having an employer file for them.

Extraordinary ability is a relatively new concept in immigration law, being introduced only in 1990. INS regulations define extraordinary ability as a “level of expertise indicating that the individual is one of those few who have risen to the top of the field of endeavor.” There are two ways to demonstrate extraordinary ability. First, the alien can show that they have received a major, internationally recognized award such as a Nobel Prize or an Academy Award. The second, and more common method is for the alien to show three of the following ten types of evidence:

  • Receipt of lesser national or international prizes or awards for excellence in their field of endeavor
  • Membership in associations in the field of endeavor that require outstanding achievements of their members
  • Published material about the alien and his work in professional journals, trade publications, or the major media
  • Participation, either in a group or alone, as a judge of others in the same or a similar field
  • Original scientific, scholarly, or artistic contributions of major significance in the field of endeavor
  • Authorship of scholarly articles in the field, published in professional journals or the major media
  • Display of the alien’s work at artistic exhibitions or showcases in more than one country
  • Performance in a lead, starring, or critical role for organizations with a distinguished reputation
  • Commanding a high salary compared to others in the field
  • Commercial success in the performing arts, as shown by box office receipts and sales
  • Receipt of lesser national or international prizes or awards for excellence in their field of endeavor
  • Membership in associations in the field of endeavor that require outstanding achievements of their members
  • Published material about the alien and his work in professional journals, trade publications, or the major media
  • Participation, either in a group or alone, as a judge of others in the same or a similar field
  • Original scientific, scholarly, or artistic contributions of major significance in the field of endeavor
  • Authorship of scholarly articles in the field, published in professional journals or the major media
  • Display of the alien’s work at artistic exhibitions or showcases in more than one country
  • Performance in a lead, starring, or critical role for organizations with a distinguished reputation
  • Commanding a high salary compared to others in the field
  • Commercial success in the performing arts, as shown by box office receipts and sales
Realizing that these ten categories of evidence do not encompass all the evidence that could be presented to show extraordinary ability, the INS has also included a catch-all category allowing submission of other comparable evidence.

While INS rules set up a three out of ten requirement with regard to the above categories of evidence, subsequent policy statements have made the rule less clear. For example, when publication of scholarly articles is standard in the field of endeavor, the INS often will not accept it as one of the three types of evidence and will demand additional evidence. However, in this case, instead of presenting additional evidence the alien can counter by showing that the publications were in the most prestigious journals in the field, have been peer reviewed in other publications, or have been cited extensively by others in the field.

While not an official category of evidence, another way to demonstrate extraordinary ability is through comparison with an alien already granted that status. This is possible because INS regulations make comparison with others in the field one of the standards for judging extraordinary ability. Therefore, while it may be difficult to find out how the INS has treated someone with similar credentials, it is highly relevant evidence.

One final word of caution should be made of the type of evidence submitted to the INS. Many types of evidence, while it may technically fit within INS regulations, are not accorded much weight by the agency. For example, publication by a vanity press, a simple citation to the alien’s work without evaluation, or a single listing in an index are not accorded much weight. Other types of evidence are considered highly persuasive, such as publication in peer-reviewed journals. Finally, some of the most persuasive types of evidence are letters from peers in the alien’s field attesting to the alien’s important contributions and ability


About The Authors

Gregory Siskind has experience handling all aspects of immigration and nationality law and has represented numerous clients throughout the world. Mr. Siskind provides consultations to corporations and individuals on immigration law issues and handles cases before the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the Department of State, the Department of Labor and other government agencies. Gregory Siskind is also committed to community service. He regularly provides free legal services to indigent immigration clients and speaks at community forums to offer information on immigration issues. After graduating magna cum laude from Vanderbilt University, Gregory Siskind went on to receive his law degree from the University of Chicago. For the past several years, he has been an active member of the American Immigration Lawyers Association and he currently serves as a member of the organization's Technology Committee. He is the current committee chair for the Nashville Bar Association's International Section. Greg is a member of the American Bar Association where he serves on the LPM Publishing Board as Marketing Vice Chairman and on the Council of the Law Practice Management Section. He is also a member of the Tennessee Bar Association, the Nashville Bar Association and the Memphis Bar Association. He serves on the board of the British American Business Association of Tennessee. And he serves on the Board of Directors of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society and on the executive boards of the Jewish Family Service agencies in Nashville and Memphis, Tennessee. He recently was named one of the Top 40 executives under age 40 in his hometown of Memphis, Tennessee.

Greg regularly writes on the subject of immigration law. He has written several hundred articles on the subject and is also the author of the new book The J Visa Guidebook, published by Matthew Bender and Company, one of the nation's leading legal publishers. He is working on another book for Matthew Bender on entertainment and sports immigration.

Greg is also, in many ways, a pioneer in the use of the Internet in the legal profession. He was one of the first lawyers in the country (and the very first immigration lawyer) to set up a web site for his practice. And he was the first attorney in the world to distribute a firm newsletter via e-mail listserv. Mr. Siskind is the author of the American Bar Association's best selling book, The Lawyer's Guide to Marketing on the Internet. He has been interviewed and profiled in a number of leading publications and media including USA Today, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Lawyers Weekly, the ABA Journal, the National Law Journal, American Lawyer, Law Practice Management Magazine, National Public Radio's All Things Considered and the Washington Post. As one of the leading experts in the country on the use of the Internet in a legal practice, Greg speaks regularly at forums across the United States, Canada and Europe.

In his personal life, Greg is the husband of Audrey Siskind and the proud father of Eden Shoshana and Lily Jordana. He also enjoys collecting rare newspapers and running in marathons and triathlons. He can be reached by email at GSiskind@visalaw.com.

Amy Ballentine is an associate in Siskind, Susser & Haas's Memphis, Tennessee office. She graduated Cum Laude with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English Literature from Rhodes College in 1994. While in law school at the University of Memphis she was a member of the law review staff as well as a published author. She also worked with the local public defender’s office in death penalty cases. In May 1999, she graduated Cum Laude from the University of Memphis Law School. She is a member of the American Immigration Lawyers Association. She can be reached by email at aballentine@visalaw.com.



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