Let's say you are a successful artist, and you believe a great professional career may await you in the United States. However, you do not have a job offer there, which is the usual requirement for an employment-based visa or green card.
Don’t give up just yet: You may, depending on your level of achievement and recognition, have options to seek U.S. permanent residence (a green card). You might be able to “self-petition,” based on your talent and achievement as a “Priority Worker,” under what's called the “extraordinary ability” immigrant visa category (“EB-1”).
The U.S. created the EB-1 immigrant visa in order to reward talent and ability. Although many of the people who use this visa category are in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), the EB-1 category also specifically applies to professionals in the arts. Whether your skills lie in fine art, applied art, or the performing arts, this category might be worth looking into.
The regulation that defines the priority worker visa category may be found in the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations (C.F.R.) at 8 C.F.R. § 204.5(h).
Let's look at the requirements for the EB-1 category as they pertain to artists, and consider whether and how this category might work for you. Please remember that many personal factors can also affect visa eligibility.
To qualify for a visa under the extraordinary ability category as an artist, you must be at the very top of your field, meaning:
When it comes time to apply, you'll need to prove your professional standing: either through one major, international award, or through several other significant achievements. Examples might be a Grammy for music, or an Academy Award for cinematic achievement.
However, even if you do not have a Grammy or the equivalent, you can put together other achievements to satisfy this requirement (summarized below). Notice that some of the criteria appear tailored to researchers and academics. With a bit of skillful argument, however, you may be able to explain how a particular artistic achievement of yours fulfills the requirement in question.
If you are choosing to aggregate achievements, your application for an EB-1 visa or status will need to show at least three of the following, within your field:
Showing that you meet the minimum requirements above is only the first step. You will ultimately need to persuade the U.S. government reviewer that, overall, your achievements place you at the very top of your artistic field.
Artists often face an additional hurdle: The EB-1 eligibility criteria (for example, authorship of articles) are more easily applied to academic researchers in science than to artists, especially if you specialize in an applied art (such as brand design or visual campaigns for a new product or service). To overcome this, consider:
Let’s say, for example, that your collection of original paintings was published in a well-known anthology for artists who employ a unique style, and you want to submit this as a comparable achievement to having authored scholarly articles in media. You could show how the creation of paintings printed in a professional anthology serves the same purpose as authoring articles: for example, to share a novel application of a known style or methodology with academic peers in order to help advance a unique theory or style. This approach helps make sure you don’t omit meaningful professional accomplishments.
If you have enlisted the help of an attorney, be prepared to work closely to help explain your achievements and their significance, especially when those achievements don’t seem to neatly fall into the standard categories.
When it comes time to petition for a U.S. green card (lawful permanent residence) based on your extraordinary ability, you will have to submit some basic forms as well as supporting documents proving your eligibility.
United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) provides instructions on the applicable forms. Additionally, a cover letter and summary can help you organize and explain the documents you will be including, and explain their significance.
Even if an attorney will be helping you, it’s worth starting to gather supporting documents now, to show that you are as talented as you claim to be. The following tips may help you organize:
The above are just some possible approaches to proving your eligibility for an EB-1 visa, and only some might be relevant to you. An attorney and professional peers can help you select the most complete and persuasive list of documents.
This article does not supply a complete guide to the application process, but gives a brief preview. You would start by your submitting what’s called a “visa petition” to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) on Form I-140.
What happens next depends on where you are living. If you are already in the United States legally as a nonimmigrant (such as on an H-1B or O-1 visa), you would adjust your status after USCIS approves your immigrant visa petition and your visa category has become current. To learn more, read Applying for a Green Card.
If you are abroad, you would need to go through consular processing after USCIS has approved your visa petition. See Consular Processing Procedures.
The U.S. government may consider not only your eligibility under the EB-1 visa category, but your current or past immigrant status, as well as your personal background, to decide whether you are admissible to the U.S. at all.
Consider consulting with a qualified immigration attorney before you pursue the petition for status as a priority worker. While your knowledge of the basics and your cooperation in compiling and organizing the documents can be helpful, the application process demands a great deal of paperwork preparation and attention to detail. Your attorney is in the best position to help you persuade the U.S. government that you are at the very top of your field and to make sure that other factors will not affect your options.