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The Extraordinary Ones (Part II)

Three immigrants seeking a highly coveted visa struggle to prove their worth to the United States.

Story by Peter Moskowitz & Claudia Bracholdt | October 22, 2012

What makes a person extraordinary?

One of the most coveted types of visas are those which allow foreigners to live and work in the U.S. if they can prove they have extraordinary abilities in their fields. The O-1 “extraordinary persons” visa lasts for one to three years and can be renewed; the EB-1 version leads to permanent citizenship. Tens of thousands of people apply for each type every year, from Italian filmmakers to Moroccan hair stylists, often paying thousands of dollars in lawyer and application fees. Here are the stories of three visa applicants who successfully received the “extraordinary person” designation.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services lists dozens of criteria for qualifying for an O-1 or EB-1. They range from proof of original scholarly or artistic work, to “evidence that you command a high salary.” But there is no formula for what gets one person in over another. Often, the application process takes years. No one really knows what “extraordinary” means. Sure, Olympic medals, Nobel Prizes, and articles in internationally recognized media outlets can help convince authorities at USCIS, but none guarantee a person’s entry.

Zoja Mihic is a jewelry designer with clients in Europe and the United States. Originally from South Africa, she moved to Paris and then applied for an EB-1 visa. She arrived in New York a few weeks ago without an apartment, a studio, or many of the connections that are so crucial to her business. Still, Mijic said she’s excited to get settled, and adapt to the frenetic pace of the city.

The visa requirements have come under fire from business leaders and immigration lawyers in recent years for being vague, subjective, and forever changing, depending on who happens to be making decisions at USCIS at any given time. But for people who dream of calling New York and the United States home, the visas, and the bureaucratic pain still associated with them, are often their only hope.

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For more “Extraordinary Ones,” view part one of our series here, and part three here.

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