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How can an Artist get a Green Card?

The Artist Green Card is for ‘Aliens of Extraordinary Ability’ a First Employment-Based Preference (EB-1A or EB1-EA) American visa. It is a self sponsored visa meaning you don’t need a company or person or labor certificate to support you.

To be proved an ‘Alien of Extraordinary Ability’ the USCIS ask that you show proof of a major international award or satisfy 3 of their 10 criteria. Once an artist proves their eligibility as an artist of extraordinary ability they can apply for permanent residence.

Most artists apply for the EB-1 Extraordinary Green Card, another option is the NIW or a sponsored Green Card. We concentrate on the self sponsored EB-1 Extraordinary Green Card on this site but our guides can be used for the other green card applications as their versions are very similar. As this is a special visa there are usually priority dates available meaning it is the fastest way to permanent residence in the USA. 

Most journeys to the green card start with a temporary visa. Most believe you need to have a visa such as an O-1 visa before you apply for the EB-1 Green Card. This is completely unnecessary. You can apply directly for the Green Card from within the US or from anywhere in the world. 

Here’s how:

Two stage application

There are two stages to applying for an extraordinary green card. First stage is proving you that you qualify as an artist of extraordinary ability by submitting a document(cover/petition letter) and evidence and stage two is the actual green card application where you submit your personal information such as home addresses birth certificates marriage certificates etc. Full process here.

In the first stage you are required to write your petition letter which details which of the criteria that you qualify for as extraordinary – minimum of three criteria out of ten (most applicants that that qualify and three criteria usually qualify in five or six.)

Determine how you are extraordinary

Read here for more information on how the USCIS determine you are an alien of extraordinary ability. You might be surprised to find that much of your work qualifies. The statements you make in your petition letter should be backed up with evidence of each of your achievements. This evidence is usually newspaper articles, reviews, or marketing materials etc. The petition letter is is also backed up by recommendation letters, testimonials from people who you have worked with in the past that can attest to your extraordinary work. Embrace your culture, embrace your uniqueness, embrace the historical significance of what you do eg. you may be a Vietnamese singer, tattoo artist or a pantomime writer, or a commedia dell’arte performer, an Irish dancer. 

If you feel your application is lacking right now the key is to determine what criteria you already qualify under and focus in on improving them before applying. eg you may have articles about you and your work but can focus on garnering more press in the next 6 months to bolster your application, you may have previously received a local government grant for your work concentrate on applying for others, you may have acted as a judge in your field and will now chase other opportunities.

The USCIS never look at your work as an artist but judge you on the word of others. These criteria were devised to help them do that. Your applications best chance of success is understanding the criteria and giving the USCIS exactly what they need to approve you.

Qualify in 3 criteria

The 10 criteria should be interpreted to relate to you and your career. It is also important to be aware of interpretations that USCIS Immigration Officers might not accept.

  • Major award – If you have one then you may only need to prove this criterion to qualify.

If you don’t have a major award. There are a further 10 criteria to choose from. You only need to qualify in 3.

  • Lesser Awards – You got the awards, show the proof
  • Memberships in Associations – Show they require outstanding achievements of their members
  • Published Material – The publication, the article and it’s about you
  • Judge of Others – Chosen because of your importance 
  • Original Contributions – Prove original and significance
  • Scholarly Articles – Includes trade publications
  • Artistic Exhibitions – Prove artistic relevance
  • Leading or Critical Roles – Leading and critical have different definitions
  • High Salary – If your are not making over union scale this criteria might be worth leaving out
  • Commercial Success – Receipts, sales, Box office success
  • Read about them here

Each of these criteria need compelling evidence. You must also show with evidence that you have sustained national OR international acclaim and prove how you can further prove your intent to continue working in your field and with it your potential benefit to the USA.

You will present your evidence for your Immigration Officer in an Index of Exhibits – highlighting, numbering & binding.

Collect the opinions of respected peers

When you know the criteria you are applying under then approach peers and experts in your field willing to give you Recommendation Letters. Don’t make the mistake of collecting these first. These letters can greatly assist you in a successful case.

Your legal argument 

Your petition letter is the cornerstone to a successful application and our guides have two of them for your to work through. Read our Petition Letter breakdown here.

This is the bulk of what is necessary. Everything else is forms. Check out here for information on the technical process of applying for an artist green card.

If you enjoyed this article you will love our guides! We have decoded the petition letter formulas and provide samples of petition letters in our guides – two in our EB1 and two in our O1 visa guides. We analyze the criteria further to inspire you when building your own. Many artists are successfully living and working in the USA because of them. Understanding exactly what the USCIS needs to see is the key, especially if you are DIYing your application. We give you everything you need to self file.

If you are applying using an attorney we beg that you read your petition letter before it is submitted on your behalf – read Reasons Why Denied Rejected.

We wish you all our very best in your application.