Dear Sophie: Tell me more about the EB-1A extraordinary ability green card

Here’s another edition of “Dear Sophie,” the advice column that answers immigration-related questions about working at technology companies.

“Your questions are vital to the spread of knowledge that allows people all over the world to rise above borders and pursue their dreams,” says Sophie Alcorn, a Silicon Valley immigration attorney. “Whether you’re in people ops, a founder or seeking a job in Silicon Valley, I would love to answer your questions in my next column.”

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Dear Sophie,

I’m a postdoc engineer who started STEM OPT in June after failing to get selected in the H-1B lottery.

A colleague suggested that I apply for an EB-1A for extraordinary ability green card, but I have not won any major awards, much less a Nobel Prize. Would you tell me more about the EB-1A?


— Bashful in Berkeley

Dear Bashful,

Thank you for reaching out to me! Most people who get green cards through the EB-1A process are far from achieving a Nobel Prize — don’t worry, it’s still possible!

My law partner, Anita Koumriqian, recently talked with Lanie Denslow, a cultural competence and business protocol consultant who helps companies and professionals navigate cultural differences in today’s complex, fast-moving and global business environment. In the Immigration Law for Tech startups podcast episode, they talked about how culture drives behavior and how we need to understand the culture an individual comes from in order to understand their actions and approaches.

A composite image of immigration law attorney Sophie Alcorn in front of a background with a TechCrunch logo.

Image Credits: Joanna Buniak / Sophie Alcorn (opens in a new window)

Along those lines, I often find that many international professionals and students who qualify for an EB-1A are extremely modest and underestimate their abilities and achievements. In American culture, professionals are expected to promote their abilities and accomplishments or personal branding. While that practice is accepted in the United States, it’s frowned upon in many other countries, where modesty is more culturally valued.

That means many international professionals and students — perhaps even you — may feel out of their comfort zone when submitting an application for an EB-1A extraordinary ability green card and gathering the five to eight recommendation letters from individuals who are qualified to assess their work and achievements.

Before I dive in further, I suggest you consult an experienced immigration attorney who can assess whether you would be a strong candidate for an EB-1A or if other options would better suit your situation and goals. You should consider talking to your employer about sponsoring you for a green card, and know that you can also file a petition on your own. The EB-1A and EB-2 NIW (National Interest Waiver) are two employment-based green cards for which the beneficiaries can self-petition (without an employer sponsor).

Qualifications for an EB-1A

To qualify for an EB-1A, you must meet any three of the following:

  1. You have received nationally or internationally recognized prizes or awards for excellence. These awards should be post-university level and might be able to include such things as VC funding, pitch competitions and international hackathons.