U.S. immigration law tends to have specific requirements for each type of visa and most are very inflexible. Either the foreign national meets each specific requirement or not. But there is a quirky visa that is both for nonimmigrants and immigrants — an Alien of Extraordinary Ability.

In order to qualify, a foreign national must show extraordinary ability in the sciences, education, business, athletics, arts or motion pictures/television. Dirk Nowitzki, who recently retired from playing basketball for the Dallas Mavericks, immigrated as an Alien of Extraordinary Ability. Personally, I really enjoy preparing this type of visa, as it allows me to delve deeply into the topic and I learn interesting and new information each time. This type of visa is very document and research intensive. It is a bit like writing a mini-biography of the foreign national and the industry. The filing is basically a very long cover letter supported by essentially a scrapbook of evidence to bolster the case. In many instances, the foreign national is able to self-petition, which is a great advantage as most employment-based visas require that an employer must be the petitioner.

Extraordinary ability is proven in slightly different ways depending on the field. For science, education, business or athletics, it means a level of expertise indicating that the foreign national is one of the small percentage who have arisen to the very top of the field of endeavor. If the foreign national has received a major, internationally recognized award, such as the Nobel Prize, that can be the only piece of evidence that is required to prove being extraordinary. (Of course, foreign nationals will still have to go through the full immigration process.)

For most other foreign nationals, they will need to show that they have met at least three of the following forms of documentation for their field of endeavor:

—Alien’s receipt of nationally or internationally recognized prizes or awards;

—Alien’s membership in associations which require outstanding achievements of their members, as judged by recognized national or international experts in their disciplines or fields;

—Published material in professional or major trade publications or major media about the alien;

—Evidence of the alien’s participation on a panel, or individually, as a judge of the work of others;

—Evidence of the alien’s original scientific, scholarly, or business-related contributions of major significance;

—Evidence of the alien’s authorship of scholarly articles, in professional journals, or other major media;

—Evidence that the alien has been employed in a critical or essential capacity for organizations and establishments that have a distinguished reputation;

—Evidence that the alien has either commanded a high salary or will command a high salary or other remuneration for services, evidenced by contracts or other reliable evidence; or

—If the above do not readily apply, comparable evidence in order to establish the beneficiary’s eligibility.

For the arts, extraordinary means distinction. Distinction is a high level of achievement in the field of arts evidenced by a degree of skill and recognition substantially above that ordinarily encountered to the extent that a person described as prominent is renowned, leading, or well-known in the field of arts.

For the motion picture or television industry, it means a very high level of accomplishment in the motion picture or television industry evidenced by a degree of skill and recognition significantly above that ordinarily encountered to the extent that the person is recognized as outstanding, notable, or leading in the motion picture or television field.

While most could likely understand that Dirk Nowitzki easily meets the standard of being extraordinary, there are many foreign nationals who can meet this category. It does not require that the foreign national has any specific income level. Extraordinary means being at the height of one’s field, though the specific field of endeavor may be an area with which the general population is not familiar. It is a quirky visa, and it is very flexible. Some other examples of extraordinary ability aliens include: a fire-eater from Manila, a burlesque dancer from Canada, a puppeteer from Russia, etc.

Alice Gruber has been practicing U.S. immigration and naturalization law since 1995. Since 2007, she has practiced in Cooke County for a range of small to medium-sized corporate clients nationwide, quarter horse ranches in Texas and individuals. She does regular pro bono immigration work for Abigail’s Arms Cooke County Family Crisis Center.

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