We are Rachel and Kevin, and a few years ago, we were you! Having worked in film and theatre in Ireland, the UK and across Europe for more than a decade, we made the move to Los Angeles in 2009 on O1B Artist Visas and dove into the warm and exciting waters of Hollywood’s bustling film and television industry… within six months of getting here, the doors on the O1 visas were starting to close.
We had made the move to the US on the temporary O1B artist visa sponsored by our managers and according to US immigration officials we were legal to work, but now, all of a sudden, some studios and networks decided that they were not accepting O-1B visas!
We had moved 6000 miles across the globe to start a new and exciting chapter in our careers and now we felt jipped. Our visas cost us over $8500 each (we had used attorneys), we couldn’t just turn on our heels and head home.
The O-1B is an excellent temporary visa to allow you live and work in the United States and is ideal for the creative artist who wants to trial working in the USA before committing to the EB-1 permanent green card. If your intention is to create your own work in the US then the O-1B is ideal. If you wish to use the O-1 as a stepping stone to the EB-1, it is a solid step in the right direction and establishes you in the US ahead of your EB-1 application. The O-1B can be used to have the time necessary in the US to meet with potential employers and get your work known – and if an employer that doesn’t accept blanket visas wishes to hire you, they can choose to submit an application for another O-1B for you with them listed as sponsor – the possibilities are endless!
NB It is not necessary for you to have an O-1 visa before applying for the EB1 Green Card!
To have the careers that we wanted we needed to get GREEN CARDS!
As far as we were aware the only routes to getting green cards were through being sponsored by a family member, marrying a citizen or getting an investor visa. None of these were going to work for us foreign artists. Firstly, we had no family in the US, secondly marrying for papers is fraud and a deportable offense, and the third green card required a bunch of cash which we didn’t have. We had always thought that the only visa open to us was the O1B visa, but then we learned that there was another option, the ARTIST GREEN CARD.
And so began our investigation of the EB1-EA Artist Green Card process. We contacted our attorneys and had a consultation on what we needed to do, but ultimately we came away with little more advice than “get more stuff”. Hardly very informative and certainly not inspiring. We were naïve thinking the minutiae of the criteria to qualify for the visa would be explained within the hour allotted to us. So we reached out to our other international O1 friends journeying to green cards to see what they had been told – but the answer was always the same – “get more stuff”! Not much help. Both the O1 and the EB1 require you to prove that you are in the top percentage of artists in your field, and with no real ranking system, like in sports, proving your status is your responsibility and highly subjective.
We dusted off our original O1 applications and our submitted evidence, and gathered everything we could on the work we had accomplished since submitting the O1s to the USCIS. We also looked at what work we had coming up and what evidence we could use from that. We figured out that our green card applications couldn’t go in right away, as we each had some work lined up in Europe and there are restrictions on when you can apply related to when you entered the country and also on leaving the country once you have a pending application. The green card application isn’t one to rush anyway, so we were happy to be able to spend a little time working through it.
In our research of the EB1-EA we discovered that we did not have to have a sponsor like with the O1 and other work visas, and that we could file the application ourselves without an attorney. We had just paid $8500 each for our O1 visa applications, and the same again in moving to Los Angeles, so the thought of having to pay another $10,000 each, less than a year later, was just not an option for us. We had also some difficulty with our attorneys on our O1 applications – they hadn’t filed them for FOUR months after we had been told they had been submitted! – PLUS while we were considering if we should self-file, we met with a friend who had just booked a major TV series and paid for premium processing on his green card so he could film the role – but his attorney didn’t file when they said they would and he lost the job!! To have more control over our visa applications we began to take self-filing more seriously!
There are no guides online on how to get from an O1 artist visa to the Eb1 so we had to reverse engineer the application and figure out how to fit our experience as artists into the 10 criteria. From that we were able to assess our chances in qualifying. We drew up spreadsheets and workplans, contacted old employers and new colleagues, we started to lay the groundwork for our application. We read through all the USCIS instruction pages, dozens of immigration forums, got familiar with the Kazarian v. USCIS, 580 F.3d 1030, 1036 Case(9th Cir. 2009), we bought guides on how to apply for the EB1 scientist green card – (there is a good bit of info out there for science and business, but hardly anything on the arts). We studied everything we could get our hands on…
The application took a lot of work and took time. The USCIS green card requirements ask that you qualify in just three criteria out of ten, proving sustained national or international acclaim, with further evidence to show that you will continue to work in the United States, as well as be of benefit to the US and its people. You must present your case by compiling this into a ~20 page or so cover letter or petition letter tying together your evidence plus filing a bunch of forms.
A little over a year after arriving in Los Angeles with a head full of dreams, we hit ‘Print’ on our applications – hundreds of pages of evidence, our cover letters and completed forms. We had a crash course in artist immigration under our belt. For just over $2000 each in filing fees and medical costs, we self-filed and won our place in the United States of America as Artists of Extraordinary Achievement.
Since then we have helped dozens of other artists in Los Angeles and New York to file their cases; some working with attorneys, some self-filing with our garnered immigration tips and know-how. When you work with an attorney you have the benefit of their opinion on your chances, and their experience in writing many petition letters – their expertise is your peace of mind. It is your responsibility though to collate and prepare your evidence for them.
The knowledge from filing our own successful cases and the many successful artists that we assisted meant that we were being contacted by hopeful applicants from all over the world. We are artists, not immigration attorneys, yet we wanted to pass on our lessons learned from the artists point of view to all and so Artist Green Card guides was born.
We built our online guides to show you all the steps in preparing your case and how to present it. We fully explain the criteria to help you brainstorm your career. We give examples of what makes for strong and compelling evidence as well as what doesn’t. We provide you with workbooks and samples of usable recommendation letters to get your application off to a flying start. We love receiving emails from artists that bought our guide excited to tell us of their successful application.
We have been through this and learned so much along the way, both as applicants and as mentors to others, we want to shine a light on the path to permanent residence in the United States for artists. It’s hard enough to put your entire life’s work on paper and send it off in hopes of being deemed worthy by some anonymous assessor in an office somewhere, but to do that without a clear guide as to what the criteria mean, what counts and what doesn’t, what forms to file next, while also being told that it’s impossible and futile, is overwhelming. This is an application that we all hope to only ever have to do once, and then forget about forever, and that is why it is so important to get it right the first time.
Let our experience be your guide and join us here in the USA.
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The EB1-EA is the Employment Based 1st Preference Green Card for Aliens of Extraordinary Ability, with sustained national or international acclaim, covering individuals of extraordinary ability in the arts, sciences, education, business or athletics. Often called the genius green card, it has a few different names all designed to scare you off applying, to make you doubt your extraordinariness and believe that it’s impossible to get. We have all heard the rumors – it can’t be gotten, it’s impossible, they only give them to Oscar/Grammy/Pulitzer or Nobel Prize winners… We’ve heard it all ourselves – we have even been told all these things while standing there with our green cards in our hands – but there are no golden statues on our mantle!
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Individuals of extraordinary ability are considered to be the best of the best in their field, and this is something very measurable in relation to the athletes who also fall under the EA banner, they compete and win or lose, but how do you measure art? Art is subjective, it holds a different meaning to different audiences, it can fall flat in one region or time and yet inspire in another. The great artists are not only those who make the most money, or show in the finest venues, but also those who create on the smaller level, reach smaller communities, cultivate new techniques, find magic in the mundane, and develop culture.
There is rarely one grand prize that can identify these valuable and beneficial artists, and it is for this reason that the EB1-EA application is structured to allow applicants show their impact across ten possible criteria, needing only three to qualify. There’s no back door, but there is a level playing field on which to prove your extraordinary ability. Also, rather than suggest themselves as the know-it-alls of art, the USCIS takes into account a wide range of established evidence, as well as comparable evidence – where applicants have the opportunity to establish how their work, though different to the established qualifiers, does still satisfy the criteria. Have a read of our What is extraordinary ability? here next.
Okay, so I qualify in three criteria and I’m in, right?
Not quite. After you’ve satisfied three criteria, your examiner then takes an overall look at your application and makes a secondary judgement, known as “Final Merits” to determine if you will continue to sustain your career and offer benefit to the United States. Here they take into account all your evidence, even for criteria that you failed to qualify under. For example, you have satisfied the three criteria of published articles, artistic exhibitions, and membership in distinguished organizations, but failed to satisfy in judging others, scholarly articles, and lesser awards – however you have demonstrated that you do take the time to offer your talent and knowledge as a judge and tutor, and you have a number of awards for your work and contributions to your field… These things speak volumes about you as a person, and show your interest in assisting others and forwarding your art form. Though perhaps smaller elements in your own career, they are strong signs of your interest in benefiting others – and that is an important element for the USCIS in considering you as a new member of American society. You know how the kids in movies are always doing extracurricular work to get accepted into fancy colleges? This is kinda like that! Read our FAQs.
So… What are you telling me?
The EB1-EA artist green card is neither fairy tale, nor myth, nor is it impossible to get. It is a paper application, designed to allow you prove your eligibility to live and work in the United States, to create art and benefit its people and culture. The criteria are designed to have you prove your sustained acclaim through various external means, including reviews, testimonials, lesser awards, membership or critical roles in outstanding organizations, exhibition in highly regarded venues, and commercial success. Within our guide we detail how to present your evidence, how to word your explanatory cover letter, and give many examples of what makes for strong and compelling proof.
And I should do this on my own?
The EB1-EA is a self-sponsored green card, meaning you do not need a US employer to apply – you are your own sponsor. Use of an immigration attorney is optional. When we applied we were torn as to what was the better option – we had friends who applied with attorneys and been denied, others who had been approved, but never heard of anyone self-filing! There is a lot of work involved in the application, most of which you have to do on your own anyway. What an attorney offers you is peace of mind. They have done it all before many times and they can do it for you, taking much of the stress and pressure off your hands. Of course, they charge a fee for this service, which may or may not be a factor in deciding how you proceed.
There’s no guarantee either way, the deciding factor is your career, not who prepared your application. We believe that our guide can help you to present your career, showing it in its best light and highlighting its merits – whether that is in how best to word your recommendation letters or just in choosing the evidence to present to your attorney so they can best word your petition letter. We have gathered all the information, heard from all the experts, seen all the arguments for and against every angle, dug through forums and compiled a comprehensive guide on how the USCIS criteria apply to artists.
The Artist Green Card is not an impossible feat. If you are a working artist, either you are ready for it, or you are ready to focus your career to be ready for it soon.
Wait… Be ready for it soon?
Yep! Qualifying for the EB1-EA is not easy. While the criteria are similar to the O1-B, the level of scrutiny your evidence comes under is far more thorough. You have to decide if you are ready. You can take non-committal consultations with attorneys to help you judge if your evidence will pass muster, and you may be told by those attorneys or a “visabot” that you are not yet ready to apply. Many use our guide as an actionable blueprint to develop their career and build their evidence in such a way as to strategically better qualify for a future application.
In 2008 we met an older lady who had worked as a business woman in London for decades, she had taken early retirement and recently graduated with a masters degree in acting. She had no performance experience, but she was determined to make the move to Los Angeles and follow her dreams. Surely she couldn’t very easily qualify for a visa that requires a career of sustained acclaim! Yet two years later, having focused all her efforts on finding and creating work that would satisfy the visa criteria, she arrived in L.A. with an O1-B visa. And upon learning of the difficulties and restrictions O1 actors were facing, she continued her focused efforts and two years later again, using our techniques and strategy she self-filed her EB1-EA green card – and SHE GOT IT! So it IS all possible. How did she manage it? She worked strategically through our criteria deconstructions and shaped a career trajectory that ticked the immigration examiners boxes. By concentrating on the roles, positions and organizations that would give her status among her industry peers she built a petition worthy of the extraordinary artist visa.
We built our Artist Green Card guide so you can have the tools to do the same. In our guides we show you how to design your career to gain the most from it and how to generate the evidence you need to qualify as an artist of extraordinary ability/achievement. We share with you how to build a portfolio that demonstrates your career in the best way and with our extra supplements on press releases, marketing, and goal setting, we help you garner the all-important paper evidence of your extraordinary ability/achievement. We demonstrate how to formulate your petition letter, give you examples of 2 full letters written in different styles and detail how to compile your evidence, and, of course, give you an understanding of the forms.
We are living and working in the USA and we want you to join us. Whether you have your career in place and are ready to file or you are just be starting out, we can guide you on your journey. We are excited for you in this adventurous next step in your life.
Rachel & Kevin
We are actors from Ireland. We arrived in USA with O1-B artist visas and then got our own EB-1 Artist Green Cards without an attorney. To learn exactly how we did this and how you can do the same enter your email here to be kept updated.