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Filing O-1A Extraordinary Ability Visas: Do's and Don'ts

A Guidebook to the Successful O-1A Visa Petition

Our office is frequently retained to assist foreign nationals in answering Requests for Evidence (RFE) or in the refiling unsuccessful O-1 cases. In evaluating each of these cases, we have witnessed a lot of similarities and common mistakes as made in their initial filings, mistakes that too often lead to unfortunate results.

This article will address and rectify the most typical mistakes we have noticed in the filings of O-1A visa petitions.

Filing a Successful O-1A Visa

General Recommendations

  • Do stay on point and be specific. Choose your area of expertise and stick with it, providing supporting evidence of your recognition and achievements as relevant to that particular field. Try to refrain from submitting all possible evidence of your career in general.

Example: A foreign national is attempting to establish O-1A qualifications as a marketing expert for employment in a marketing position in the U.S. and possesses a substantial resume of achievements and supporting evidence for that field of work. Moreover, he decides to include evidence that he has also worked as a photographer and presented his work at a few prestigious exhibitions. Unfortunately, his extra documentation for photographic work is irrelevant to establishing eligibility for O-1A as a marketing expert and, as a result, USCIS is only confused by the extraneous information. It thus issues an RFE questioning each of the criteria for the O-1A.

  • Don’t leave the organization of evidence for USCIS. The success of O-1A is dependent on the ability to present evidence in the most favorable light, emphasizing the foreign national’s accomplishments, addressing which of the criteria you are trying to qualify under and providing an intuitively meticulous organization of the supporting evidence. Without properly organizing the case, important documentation may be missed or disregarded by USCIS, its adjudicators only allotting a limited amount of time for the evaluation of each case.

Example: A foreign national has notched outstanding achievements, including multiple international awards in the field of entrepreneurship, substantial investments raised and an impressive record of commercial success as well as contracts with major multinational brands. However, he was not able to articulate his success and did not focus on any of the specific criteria, putting all the evidence in one pile in the (vain) hope that USCIS will be able to effectively sort through it. Supporting evidence presented in the initial petition was minimal and did not address the O-1A criteria. Instead of providing an informative narrative, it is instead focused on sprawling technical information not organized in proper exhibits, exhibits that would much more clearly convey just how the beneficiary is has met the requirements for O-1A classification. 

  • Do provide certified translations of all evidence that is in a foreign language. We see this particular (and easily avoidable) mistake far too often. Immigration law does not require translations to come from accredited agencies, a fact of which greatly simplifies the translation process. You just need to find any person who is fluent in both languages and can translate the foreign-language documents into English in addition to providing a certification of translation with attributes required by USCIS. The translator must certify that he or she is competent in both languages, attest to the completeness and accuracy of the translation and provide a list of all the documents translated.
  • Don’t provide foreign language documents hoping that USCIS will consider them. They won’t. Also avoid highlighting your name in the foreign language and translating it. For anything of this sort to carry weight, you would have to provide a full translation of the article where your name appears. USCIS similarly does not accept Google Translation, which you can do on the same page by clicking “Translate to English” if you are a Google Chrome user. Such translations will also not be given any weight. Rather, ask the translator to verify the accuracy of such a translation and provide the translation of the particular article as a separate Word document.
  • Do provide plain copies of evidence. Originals are generally not required by USCIS and ordinary photocopies are acceptable so long as they are legible. If you are printing documentation from a website, include the footer as well as the website’s URL.
  • Don’t provide printouts if it is impossible to ascertain where they came from, without the website’s URL at the bottom of each page.
  • If you are submitting regular copies of evidence, don’t alter them by inserting any digital highlights or arrows. You can use a regular marker to highlight your name or other relevant information, but avoid altering the file itself.

Proving the O-1A Qualifications

Remember that O-1A criteria are two-fold:

  1. You need to prove your preeminence in the field by presenting evidence of your accomplishments such as the winning of awards, publications, presentations, acting as a judge, etc.
  2. You also need to prove the distinguished reputation of the organizations involved, such as those who issued the awards or hosted the presentations, the prestige of the magazines where articles have been published, etc.

Without providing such additional supporting documentation, even if the reported achievements are impressive, the effects of these feats on USCIS's decision will be lost.

National or International Awards for Excellence

  • Do provide supporting documentation of the distinguished reputations of the organizations that had issued the awards and don’t rely on USCIS to seek out this information by themselves.

Example: If you just provide evidence of winning a particular award, USCIS has no means of knowing whether this award is national, international or just regional/institutional. Evidence that should be provided includes further documentary information about the award itself, its significance, its national/international recognition, details regarding the organization that issued the award, the criteria for granting the award, the judges and the judging process, the number of individuals competing as well as how many of them win, etc.

Memberships in organizations in your field which require outstanding achievements

  • Do provide evidence of membership as well as detailed information about the organizations, their criteria for membership and the judging process.
  • Don’t provide evidence of membership in professional associations that accept the general public or associations that are specific to a certain occupation but lack stringent requirements for acceptance.

Example: Incubator or accelerator programs that accept only certain startups with a unique product and a talented team could satisfy the membership criterion as these organizations may be strict in their selection process as judged by well-known experts. Examples may include Y combinator or 500 startups, etc.

Published material in major media about the beneficiary and his work

  • For publications in major media about the foreign national, do include these articles themselves, highlighting the parts that elaborate on you or your work. Ensure that the article includes information about the author, the date and the publication source.
  • Also, do include information about the publication and why it can be considered “major” media.

Example: You may be able to find circulation information for the publication or other evidence of that publication's significant national or international reputation and distribution.

Original contributions of major significance

  • To prove original contributions of major significance to the field, do include letters of recommendations from other qualified experts evaluating your achievements. The letters should provide as much detail as possible about the beneficiary’s contributions and must explain in detail how the contributions are original (not simply replicating the work of others) as well as how they are of major significance.
  • Don’t provide general statements of experts which do not describe your specific work and achievements. If they praise your work without providing pertinent details about it, they will be discounted by USCIS.

Authorship of scholarly articles in major media

This requirement has 2 parts:

  1. You have to show that the articles authored by you are “scholarly,” meaning that they are intended for persons with a profound knowledge in your field.
  2. The articles are published in professional or trade publications, or other major media.

In other words:

  • Do prove that your articles are intended for an audience of professionals in your field.
  • Do prove that the publications where the articles appear are professional/trade publications or other those of major media.
  • Don’t provide internet publications intended for a general audience.

High salary or other remuneration for services

  • Do include evidence of high salary in addition to a comparative analysis of it in relation to the salaries of other similarly situated professionals. Do a search in various publications documenting the average salaries within your locality and comparing it to your own.
  • Don’t trust USCIS to find out the average salaries themselves. Don’t compare your foreign salary with the salaries of U.S. professionals if theirs are higher than those in your geographic locality.

Judge of the work of others in the field

  • Do provide evidence that you have actually participated in judging the work of others by providing printouts of websites describing the events, judges and the judging process or other such confirmations of your judging activities.

Serving in leading or critical role for organizations with a distinguished reputation

  • Do provide confirmation that you served in a leading or critical role:
    • A leading role is apparent from its position in the organization’s hierarchy and the role’s corresponding duties.
    • A critical role is evidenced by its overall influence on the organization.
  • Do provide evidence that the organizations are themselves distinguished by proving their media recognition, high revenues, high-profile clientele and overall reputation.

Preparation is Key

Even foreign nationals with outstanding achievements may fail in qualifying for O-1A visa if the evidence is not presented correctly. This is why it is important to consult a counsel who can assist you in making the best case possible according to your particular person and history.