How To Qualify for the EB1A Green Card

The EB1A green card is the fastest pathway to permanent residency, a.k.a. the green card, for professionals who want to remain in the U.S. for the long term through employment. However, the historic reputation of this category of green card has scared away many otherwise qualified professionals to apply. The EB1A is considered the holy grail of all the employment-based green cards because of its high requirements. However, the reward is enticing – you will have the shortest amount of wait time and you don’t need anyone (not even an employer) but yourself to petition. Do you have to win an Oscar to be qualified? Not necessarily – it surely doesn’t hurt if you did! In this article, we will cover the most effective strategies for creative professions to get qualified for the EB1A.

In order to be successful at obtaining the EB1A, a petitioner must prove that he or she meets at least 3 of the following 10 criteria:

  1. has won nationally or internationally-recognized awards;
  2. is a member of professional organizations that only accept members based on industry achievements;
  3. has been on jury panels of national or international competitions;
  4. has produced works that have been exhibited nationally or internationally;
  5. has leading roles in distinguished organizations;
  6. commands high salary compared to industry standard;
  7. has extensive press coverage;
  8. has achieved commercial success in the performing arts;
  9. has authored scholarly articles published in professional journals or major publications;
  10. has made major scientific, scholarly, artistic or athletic contributions.

If you feel that your achievements aligned with 3 or more of these requirements, does that mean you will definitely get approved? Not necessarily. One of the reasons that this category of green card is considered the hardest is because merits are judged subjectively. Just because you think your achievements are good enough doesn’t mean that USCIS will think the same. There are many cases when someone petitioned for the first time and get rejected but then get approved the second time using similar qualifications. It is important to understand that this subjectivity and that none of the strategies here are meant as legal advice. It is extremely important to get an experienced lawyer to help you file the case. With that being said, you should not be discouraged from trying to get the EB1A even if you think that you meet none of the requirements right now. How so? Because it all depends on how you use your talents to obtain qualifications that proves your excellence in your field. If already have a few years of work experience in the creative field, you should feel confident to start putting together a strategic plan to get yourself qualified. Here is how:

1. Identify or create projects with award potentials

If you have led award-winning projects (or projects with award potentials) while working for a client or at a company, you can include that as part of your evidence for the award requirement. However, keep in the mind that you should check in with your client of employer if it is okay that you use the project for the petition. In most client work or work for hire (i.e. you are a salaried employee) situations, the work is owned by the company and they may or may not approve of you using it for personal purpose. Additionally, you should include only projects that you are the lead or primary person involved because USCIS tends to disqualify projects that you are only a team member. What if your employer or client doesn’t approve? You’re not out of luck – in fact, you are in a better position because you can create work just for the purpose of award submission. This way, you completely own the project and nobody can tell you not to include it. Read up on plenty of award-winning works and see what common features they have. Start brainstorming on work that could rival these award-winning works in your field. It may take a couple of months before you have a solid idea, so be prepared to start early.

2. Submit to awards with past winners of similar calibers

Once you’ve identified or created the work, it is time to submit to awards. What kind of awards should you submit to? That is industry specific. We have created an extensive list of awards you can submit to in the design field. If you are a graphic designer, visual designer, UI/UX designer, web developer or working in a similar capacity, check them out! We will be releasing more guides for other creative sectors such as photography, film & TV, marketing, illustration etc. There are a few factors you should consider to narrow down the list of awards you submit to. 1) How much is your budget? Every award requires a sizable submission fee. Keep your calculator handy when planning how many awards you can afford. 2) Do the awards have past winners whose work resemble your own? Don’t submit to the ones where the majority of winning works has much higher caliber or bigger scale then yours. Focusing on the ones that are both credible in the industry and also match your caliber will significantly increase your chances of winning.

3. Pitch to join invitation-only professional organizations

As you begin to work on the awards requirement, you can also start pitching to professional organizations in your field that accept members by invitation only. Most people are scared off by the word “invitation” but they don’t have to be. The reason is most of these organizations will consider self-nominations. To maintain the quality of members, they usually don’t advertise or have a form on their website for self nomination. The best way to approach them is to send a pitch to the email address listed on their website. Even though they don’t usually have a specific email for self-nomination, they usually have a generic email. Submit a well-crafted professional bio with a list of your past achievements and explain why you would be a good fit for the organization. You will have a higher chances to get admitted once you have a few awards under your belt.

Another way to get admitted faster is to reach out to people who are already members. You can do a general good search or look on LinkedIn to find existing members. Cold email them and ask if they are willing to refer you. What’s the worst that can happen? You don’t get a reply, but don’t give up and keep pitching until someone shows interest in helping you get in. You will find that once you are accepted to one, it will be easier to get into another.

One thing to remember is – don’t join organizations that require a membership fee. These organizations may be well-known in the industry, but if anyone can join if they pay for a membership, then it is not prestigious enough in the eyes of USCIS.

4. Apply to judge award shows

If you have a number of years of experience, it won’t be too difficult to find a judging opportunity at awards and competitions. Of course, if you have awards and professional memberships already lined up, your chances of becoming a judge will be even higher. The trick is the same as pitching to invitation-only professional organizations – you need to cold email all the awards to ask if you can be a judge for them. List your achievements and experience in the field you are interested in judging. Apply to big and small awards at the same time. You will not make the deadline to judge every award because they all have different deadlines, but keep the ball rolling and keep applying as you work on other requirements.

Once you get accepted to a judge, you will have to dedicate certain amount of time for the actual judging. Some awards require you to judge more than others. Make sure you stick around till the end and don’t abandon your judging commitment even if you are just doing it to get the credit. Words travel fast in any industry – if you don’t maintain good work ethic, you won’t be invited back or get accepted at other awards.

5. Find opportunities to exhibit your work

You don’t have to be a fine artist to exhibit your work. Whatever creative work you specialize in, you could probably find a related exhibition. If you get the opportunity to exhibit at world-famous museums, that’s awesome! But if you don’t, should you give up? No, because you may get invited to exhibit at a small local venue and that counts. You can contact event organizers, artist representatives or connect with people who have previously exhibited their work. Ask them to take a look at your work and see if they have suggestions or opportunities.

You can also create your own exhibition! It definitely takes more effort and money, but you can use it to expand your network and see what other people are doing in your industry. Team up with a few local creatives to exhibit your work in a cool venue. Ramp up on pre-event marketing efforts to encourage people to attend. Document your event with photos and even pitch to the media to cover your event. Remember that at the core of all of these strategies is creating – you create your own opportunities.

6. Pitch to journalists to write about you

Ever wonder how people get on the news? A lot of them pitched themselves to journalists or have PR agencies do that for them. Since you are a one-person operation, you probably don’t have the PR budget that large companies do. You have to pitch it yourself.

Think about what your story is. In order to make a successful pitch, you will first have to become the journalist yourself. Think about what people want to read about and how would your work fit into what they want to hear. For example, people are more likely to be interested in hearing about how you found a creative solution to an age-old problem than you simply redesigning a company’s website. Craft pitch headlines that catch attentions – you will have to be intrigued by it yourself first before anyone else gets intrigued.

Connect with lots of journalist on Twitter and LinkedIn. Direct message all of them introducing yourself and your pitch. Make sure you know exactly what they cover before pitching. Journalists are very busy and get annoyed when people blindly pitch to them. Just like you need to tailor your resume to each job applications, you will need to tailor your pitch to every journalist you reach out to.

7. Connect with highly-esteemed people in your field

Attend networking events in your industry regularly to connect with highly-esteemed people in your field. Although you should talk to your fellow attendees, you should make it a point to approach speakers at the event. They are usually well respected in the field. If one of them like your experience, they may agree to write a letter of recommendation for you later down the road. Don’t make it your primary mission to get the letter – really spend time connecting with them without expecting anything. Follow up immediately after the event and ask if they are okay with keep a connection with you. Wait for a period of time (several weeks to months) before you reach out again for a recommendation letter. The most effective way to get them to write the letter is actually to do the work for them. Draft the letter yourself or assign it to your lawyer. People are very busy and they will appreciate you already doing most of the work for them. Let them know that they can change anything in the letter. Don’t be afraid to follow up several times as most people are not always on top of completing a project for someone else as a favor.

8. Get a job at famous companies

To meet the requirement of “leading roles in distinguished organizations”, you can strategically focus on applying for jobs only at large corporations. Even if you don’t get a full-time role, you can try getting doing a freelance or contract jobs for them (if you have an O1 visa that allows this type of employment). The names of these companies will get you to the front row of meeting this requirement. To prove that you hold a leading role, you will need letters from your bosses or colleagues at these companies. The same approach of documenting your own work and drafting the letters yourself can be applied here. When preparing letters supporting your achievements, statistics are the most powerful persuasion. If any of your work produced great results, get the numbers and document them (if the company’s policy allows for the disclosure).

9. Get published at journals or major news outlets

If you have done extensive research in a subject area in your field, you can consider writing articles or papers for journals or major news outlets. Before you start writing, research publications that you would like to be published in. You don’t want to be writing about something that only a handful of publication would be interested in publishing. You can employ the same approach as you would pitching to journalists. Make sure you learn what they usually publish and tailor your writing to their style. Do you have to be a writer or a scholar to get published? Not necessarily. The key is to have the right topic and make connections with the right journalists as you look to get your work out there.

10. Get organized and don’t expect your lawyer to do everything

Finally, be very organized at every stage of this strategic planning journey. A lot of creative types struggle with this but you have to now get organized. Even though you will be paying a lawyer to file the petition, he or she will not know everything you have unless you tell them and provide the documents. If you can’t find your award certificates, they cannot help you.

Another thing to remember is make sure to meticulously examine your lawyer’s work. No matter how good he or she is, you are just another client. There will be mistakes or things that could be said better and you are the person who points that out. When you are organized, your lawyer works faster and you get your green card faster.

For an exclusive insider guide on how to get the EB1 green card, check out this guide I put together. In the guide, it includes 10+ chapters with actionable tips, sample pitch letters, cost analysis and an extensive list of award shows you can submit to.

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