• The Truth About Awards for O-1 Visas

    The year 2020 was a groundbreaking year for the Oscars because the movie Parasite took home the most awards; Best Picture, Best Directing, Best International Feature Film and Best Writing (Original Screenplay). As writer, director and producer, South Korean national Bong Joon Ho received a full sweep of honors. (It is also notable that Parasite received BAFTA awards for Best Foreign Language Film, Best Original Screenplay, and nominated for Best Film and Best Direction).

    As an immigration attorney, all I could think was how Bong Joon Ho could easily qualify for an Extraordinary Ability visa (O-1 visa and EB-1 visa) to work in the U.S. For the uninitiated, both the O-1 and the EB-1 visas can be obtained for individuals who have received a major, international award such as a Nobel.

    In my experience, receipt of an Oscar, Emmy, Grammy, Tony or similar type award can usually qualify an individual for an O-1 or EB-1 visa since most adjudicating immigration officers consider these awards to be major, and international in scope. Ironically, Boon Joon Ho himself, in an October 2019 interview with Vulture magazine, stated that, “The Oscars are not an international film festival. They’re very local.” In other words, the Oscar awards was a local event, made and produced for and by Americans. Perhaps his statement that the Oscars are not an international event may have merit.

    While adjudicating immigration officers in the U.S. would most likely interpret the receipt and/or nomination of an Oscar award as having met the threshold for an O-1 visa, it’s been our experience that officers examine awards from other countries with more scrutiny.

    Not All Awards Are Equal

    Some awards are well documented and have a long history, such as Nobel, Fields Medal, BAFTAs, Oscars and many others. However, the lesser known awards, particularly those that are regional or industry-specific, may be more difficult to include as evidence to support an O-1 visa. Adjudicating officers have no way to determine whether an award is truly prestigious and elevates the individual above her peers without the proper context such as how the award was judged, by whom, how many entered, and how often the award was issued.

    Often, I ask the individual, what was so different about this award? Did the award elevate the individual’s status, or was the award given as a result of the individual’s stature in the community? Ask these questions and you may find very interesting responses that can further guide you on the eligibility for an O-1.

    Yet, even with the proper context, awards from countries that have better infrastructure and the luxury to develop a robust cultural and economic offering may fare better than awards from countries that are lacking in these areas. This may be due to lack of available documentation, or simple outdated prejudices. Therefore, it’s important for individuals to carefully consider their qualifications in the greater context of the O-1 regulations.

    Curious to learn more about preparing a successful O-1 visa? Contact our experienced team for more details here.

  • Exploring the O-1 Visa as an Alternative to the H-1B

    As H-1B season approaches, employers and potential foreign employees may be finding it difficult to maintain a positive outlook. For those of you who attended today’s USCIS webinar on the H-1B online registration process, it’s obvious the USCIS is still working through many uncertainties surrounding the new H-1B registration process. When you factor in the rising incidences of denials by USCIS and issuing requests for evidence (RFE), it’s no wonder employers are exploring other non-immigrant visa options.

    While the preparation for the H-1B petition is relatively straightforward, USCIS statistics show that H-1B RFEs and denials have increased significantly over the past several years. The denial rate for new H-1B petitions has jumped from 6% in FY 2015 to a whopping 32% in FY 2019 (through the second quarter). Between FY 2010 and FY 2015, you’ll observe that H-1B denials rates never exceeded 8%. Today, the rate has quadrupled to 32%.

    Given the current landscape, it’s worthwhile for employers to explore alternative work options for their employees. The O-1 visa offers advantages for work authorization that are worth considering.

    The O-1A Visa
    The O-1 visa is an employment-based temporary work visa reserved for individuals who can demonstrate “extraordinary ability” in the sciences, business, athletics, or arts. Employers may submit the O-1 petition any time during the year to ask for an initial three years of work authorization. The best part is there is no annual O-1 quota or O-1 “lottery” to deal with.

    One of the challenges though, is proving an employee’s qualifications for an O-1 visa. Employees must be able to demonstrate they have “risen to the top of the field” through various categories such as having:

    • Received top honors or awards for their work;
    • Been a member in prestigious organizations;
    • Served as a peer judge or reviewer;
    • Authored articles in their area of expertise;
    • Publications about themselves or their work;
    • Been employed in a critical role for distinguished organizations; and,
    • Received high remuneration.

    While the list may appear intimidating, many employees in specialized fields, especially those who have a masters degree or higher, have already published their work in the industry, have co-authored patents, and have made significant original contributions in their field which can qualify them for the O-1 visa.

    One advantage of the O-1 visa that is often overlooked by employers, is how much of a competitive edge the O-1 visa offers. While there is indeed more effort that goes into preparing a strong and approvable O-1 petition, the benefits are much higher to the company in the long term. Employers who pursue an O-1 visa for their employees benefit from recruiting “aliens of extraordinary ability.” They signal to candidates that the company is open-minded, can think outside-the-box, and willing to explore opportunities that will help the company grow. It may also signal the possibility the company would apply that same logic for greencard options as well. Companies who can distinguish themselves from competitors by exploring immigration options for candidates will probably fare better when it comes to recruiting that highly sought-after candidate.

    Therefore, it is well worth the effort to explore all options with an experienced immigration attorney, particularly a team with years of experience assessing and drafting O-1 visa petitions. Contact Accel Visa Attorneys to learn which visa best suits your needs.