In July 2022, the Biden-Harris White House signaled its immigration-positive goals by amending the USCIS Policy Manual to favor certain non-immigrants of “extraordinary ability” seeking O-1A status. In particular, the Policy Manual was revised to broaden the kinds of evidence that could be presented by applicants in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics)-focused fields.
The first weeks of the Biden Administration saw the issuance of an Executive Order entitled Restoring Faith in Our Legal Immigration Systems and Strengthening Integration and Inclusion Efforts for New Americans. This Executive Order was intended to reverse the damaging policies of the prior administration as reflected in its Buy American Hire American Executive Order. The stated objective of the new policy was to recognize the benefits of immigration to America’s economy and the importance of immigration to America’s leadership in science, technology, and innovation.
Since those first weeks, USCIS has adopted policies and implemented nuanced changes which signal to the world that America values immigrants and that this Administration will apply existing laws in a facially neutral manner, without restrictionist bias. Towards that end, recent weeks have seen an updating of the USCIS Policy Manual – the guide used by adjudicators to evaluate applications for immigration benefits – to include STEM-favorable policies for applicants seeking O-1 status. Through these changes, the White House aims to provide clarity for international scholars, researchers, and experts in STEM disciplines.
By way of background, O-1A is a visa classification for persons of “extraordinary ability” in sciences, business, education and athletics. It is reserved for aliens who are among the “small percentage who have arisen to the very top of [their] field of endeavor.” To qualify for an O-1, a petitioner must show that the sponsored beneficiary has a high-level of achievement as documented by published articles, awards, citations, presentations, invitations to review the work of other forms of comparable evidence.
The recent updates to the Policy Manual broaden the forms of comparable evidence to include additional STEM-specific factors as persuasive comparable evidence. These include consideration of:
- the rank, impact factor or prestige of journals which have accepted the Beneficiary’s
articles for publication;
- whether the Beneficiary is the “most significant contributor . . ., a senior author, or the
sole author of a published article”;
- whether the Beneficiary’s work has been cited more frequently than others or whether the
Beneficiary has a high “h-index” in his/her field;
- whether the Beneficiary gained research experience at a U.S. or foreign institution which
is considered a leading or highly regarding research center or university
- whether the Beneficiary has received unsolicited invitations to speak or present research
at nationally or internationally recognized conferences in the field, and
- whether the Beneficiary has been named as an investigator, scientist, or researcher on a
peer-reviewed, competitively-funded government grant or stipend for STEM research.
When present, these factors are to be looked at as favorable indications of the beneficiary’s standing among the small percentage who have risen to the top of their field of endeavor. In a stark departure from the last Administration, by implementing these broadened standards, USCIS is providing more clarity – and more predictability – to the subset of extraordinary researchers, investigators, scientists, and other STEM-qualified professionals who occupy the top-tier of internationally-recognized talent in their fields.