U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) issued policy guidance in the USCIS Policy Manual to clarify how USCIS evaluates evidence to determine eligibility for O-1A nonimmigrants of extraordinary ability, with a focus on persons in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM) fields, as well as how USCIS determines whether an O-1 beneficiary’s prospective work is within the beneficiary’s area of extraordinary ability or achievement.
O-1 nonimmigrant status is available to persons of extraordinary ability in the sciences, arts, business, education, and athletics, and persons with a record of extraordinary achievement in the motion picture or television (MPTV) industry.
This update provides additional guidance regarding evaluation of evidence submitted in support of O- 1A petitions for beneficiaries in sciences, education, business, or athletics, including examples and considerations that may be especially relevant for persons in STEM fields. In addition, this update provides guidance regarding the requirement that all O-1 beneficiaries are coming to the United States to continue work in their area of extraordinary ability or achievement, in particular how that requirement relates to beneficiaries transitioning to a new occupation.
The new guidance includes a table discussing the types of evidence that will satisfy each of the criteria for establishing that the beneficiary meets the standards for the O-1A classification.
The USCIS guidance also indicates that if petitioners show that a particular existing requirement does not apply to their occupation, they can submit alternative evidence of comparable significance that establishes sustained acclaim and recognition. The guidance further includes examples of comparable evidence that can be submitted to support beneficiaries working in STEM occupations.
Finally, the USCIS update states that when officers are determining if individuals of extraordinary ability are coming to work in their “area of extraordinary ability,” officers will consider whether the individual’s prospective work includes the expertise, knowledge or skillsets that are pertinent to the occupation(s) in which the individual works.
This new guidance does not change the legal standard for qualifying for the O-1A classification, but it does provide clearer guidance that O-1 petitioners can use for assessing the strength of potential O-1A cases and for assembling documentation to demonstrate the beneficiary’s qualifications.