Extraordinary Ability (EB1A) and USCIS Criteria

Among the five employment based categories (EB1-EB5), the first-preference (EB1) visa is granted for those who have extraordinary ability, are an outstanding professor or researcher, or are a multinational executive or manager. Each of these employment classifications has a slightly different set of requirements.

Of particular interest to postdoctoral researchers or PhD’s in the EB1 category are the EB1A (extraordinary ability) and EB1-OR (outstanding researcher) classifications. The EB1-OR classification requires an employer sponsorship and a permanent job or a job offer from a prospective employer. This classification is often used by researchers in academia, where a university is willing to sponsor the application process. This classification could be used by researchers in industry, however many employers often require a Green Card for hiring researchers.

The EB1-A (also called E11), extraordinary ability, classification allows aliens to self-petition. This does not require employer sponsorship, permanent job offer, or labor certification process. The applicant is NOT required to be in the USA at the time of application.  The statutory requirements for EB1A classification is to satisfy three among the ten USCIS criteria listed below or show a one-time significant achievement such as Pulitzer prize etc. Of course winning a prize such as Nobel Prize, Fields Medal, Abel Prize would obviously qualify as extraordinary ability and would not require an elaborate petition letter. Most postdoc applicants would have to show evidence satisfying the 3 out of 10 criteria. These regulatory EB1 criteria while, required are not sufficient. USCIS considers the overall merit of the case by looking at evidence in totality to judge whether the alien can be considered under Extra Ordinary Ability.

Two part evaluation for EB1A applications

During December 2010 USCIS issued a memo/guidelines for immigration service officers to determine extraordinary ability. The memo instructs USCIS adjudicators to use an two part approach to evidence evaluation referenced in the Kazarian appeals case. This is usually referred to as a “Two part evaluation in EB1A”. Under this rule, the applicant should satisfy three of the ten regulatory requirements for EB1A and following this applicants merits are judged based on the following two conditions.

  1. Petitioner is one of the small percentage of people who have risen to the very top of the field of endeavor.
  2. Sustained national or international acclaim and that his or her achievements have been recognized in the field of expertise.

Some postdocs or researchers have sufficient evidence to meet the EB1A criteria. How would you know if you are one of them. We suggest you carefully make a list of achievements and take stock of how your work has been applied by other researchers (eg. citations, use of your patents or inventions). This should help you determine if you have evidence satisfying the above two-part criteria. You can try the following  approach to check to judge your chances in the EB1A category or ask us a question. You can also look at some background of approved examples, green card application process, and look at example petition in our DIY packets.

USCIS Criteria for Extraordinary Ability (EB1A)

A petition for an alien of extraordinary ability must be accompanied by evidence that the alien has sustained national or international acclaim and that his or her achievements have been recognized in the field of expertise. Such evidence shall include evidence of a one-time achievement (that is, a major, internationally recognized award), or at least three of the following:

  1.    Documentation of the alien’s receipt of lesser nationally or internationally recognized prizes or
    awards for excellence in the field of endeavor;
  2.    Documentation of the alien’s membership in associations in the field for which classification is
    sought, which require outstanding achievements of their members, as judged by recognized national or
    international experts in their disciplines or fields;
  3.    Published material about the alien in professional or major trade publications or other major media,
    relating to the alien’s work in the field for which classification is sought. Such evidence shall
    include the title, date, and author of the material, and any necessary translation;
  4.     Evidence of the alien’s participation, either individually or on a panel, as a judge of the work of
    others in the same or an allied field of specialization for which classification is sought;
  5.    Evidence of the alien’s original scientific, scholarly, artistic, athletic, or business-related
    contributions of major significance in the field;
  6.    Evidence of the alien’s authorship of scholarly articles in the field, in professional or major
    trade publications or other major media;
  7.    Evidence of the display of the alien’s work in the field at artistic exhibitions or showcases;
  8.    Evidence that the alien has performed in a leading or critical role for organizations or
    establishments that have a distinguished reputation;
  9.    Evidence that the alien has commanded a high salary or other significantly high remuneration for
    services, in relation to others in the field; or
  10.    Evidence of commercial successes in the performing arts, as shown by box office receipts or record,
    cassette, compact disk, or video sales.

NOTE: If the above standards do not readily apply to the beneficiary’s occupation, the petitioner may submit comparable evidence to establish the beneficiary’s eligibility.

USCIS policy guidance on EB1A criteria

In 2023 USCIS released a detailed explanation of each of the 10 criteria and what is considered an acceptable evidence. This explanation from USCIS is an useful read for anyone planning to self-petition in the EB1A category.  You can visit the guidance page here.

Our DIY packets breakdown the complex process and provide simple actionable steps to a) collect evidence b) assess you chance of success and c) prepare a great application. Our packets contain examples of full petitions derived from successful cases, making it easy to help your application process.

Other resources

You can read more about the EB1A USCIS criteria from the following resources.

  1. EB1A: Everything you need to know.
  2. Employment-Based Immigration: First Preference EB-1.
  3. Understanding the EB-1  Requirements for Extraordinary Ability.
  4. PM-602-005.1: December 2010 Policy memorandum providing guiding for aliens of Extraordinary Ability under section 203(b)(1)(A).


Disclaimer: The contents in this web site are only for your information and are not intended to be legal advice. While many of our applicants successfully obtain their I-140 approvals, the information here should not be considered as a guarantee of your green card application outcome.