Extraordinary Ability, Pizza, and America’s First Lady

Extraordinary Pizza

Chef Renato Viola’s “Extraordinary” Pizza
  Photo: Emily Michot/ Miami Herald

The month of March brought news stories that had many people unfamiliar with business immigration asking, “What is extraordinary ability, anyway?”

“Extraordinary ability” is a term used for temporary O visas and EB-1  petitions for permanent residence. Broadly, these processes are used to bring the best and brightest to the United States – and sometimes that can mean a pizza chef and an aspiring model.

The most high-profile extraordinary ability news came in the form of revelations that First Lady Melania Trump  became a legal permanent resident in 2001 based on an EB-1 petition.  While the EB-1 is sometimes called the “Einstein Visa,” it can be applied to a wide variety of careers, including modeling, acting, athletics and the arts.

The Burden of Proof for Extraordinary Ability

Although extraordinary ability can seem like a nebulous term to define, the visas do carry a burden of proof. The most straightforward way to prove extraordinary ability is to demonstrate national or international acclaim through showing receipt of an internationally recognized award – such as a Nobel Prize or Academy Award. If that condition is not met, the burden of proof must include evidence in three of the following categories, as delineated by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

  • Evidence of receipt of lesser nationally or internationally recognized prizes or awards for excellence
  • Evidence of your membership in associations in the field which demand outstanding achievement of their members
  • Evidence of published material about you in professional or major trade publications or other major media
  • Evidence that you have been asked to judge the work of others, either individually or on a panel
  • Evidence of your original scientific, scholarly, artistic, athletic, or business-related contributions of major significance to the field
  • Evidence of your authorship of scholarly articles in professional or major trade publications or other major media
  • Evidence that your work has been displayed at artistic exhibitions or showcases
  • Evidence of your performance of a leading or critical role in distinguished organizations
  • Evidence that you command a high salary or other significantly high remuneration in relation to others in the field
  • Evidence of your commercial successes in the performing arts

Modeling Extraordinary Ability

Melania Trump on cover of Wedding InStyle Magazine

With these parameters in mind, how did Melania Trump show extraordinary ability for a successful EB-1 petition? There is enough information about her modeling career to give us an idea of how her case was framed. Melania traveled to the United States in 1996, after years of modeling for fashion houses in Paris and Milan. She worked in New York City on H-1B work visas, and subsequently appeared on the cover of In Style Weddings, New York Magazine, Vanity Fair, and Vogue and modeled for the iconic Sports Illustration Swimsuit Issue. In a process which can be frustratingly subjective, Melania’s counsel would have been able to point to numerous publications featuring Melania’s work, and argue that she was commercially successful and in the most lucrative tier of her occupation.

Extraordinary (Pizza) Ability

In another news story about extraordinary ability visas, we turn to the Miami Herald, who reported on a man who successfully argued his pizza could sustain national or international acclaim. Renato Viola’s story reads like that of a fine artist – and the hard work and determination Renato put into his now flourishing career is clear. His career started in his mother’s kitchen, and through an insatiable appetite for knowledge – and pizza – Renato won pizza competitions, became a pizza flipper on the Italian national team, became an acclaimed and sought after private chef, and taught pizza chefs from around the world his craft. According to the article, Renato waited nearly a year for his application to be approved, based on the evidence he had accrued over his career – television appearances, cooking competitions, his pizza school, and his plans for opening a U.S. restaurant amid a documented gourmet pizza movement. Renato has gone on to open three critically acclaimed pizza restaurants in the Miami area, the first of which was named Mister O1 Extraordinary Pizza, and he plans to become a permanent resident.

Who Should Apply for Extraordinary Ability?

If there is anything to be learned from these two stories, it’s that no two extraordinary ability cases are alike. In petitions for extraordinary ability, one pizza chef’s dough tossing competition is a rocket scientist’s research on jet propulsion technology. Both were developed over a career devoted to excellence and innovation.

If you are thinking of applying for an extraordinary ability visa, it’s worthwhile to contact to an experienced attorney who can help you build your case. We have seen clients discount awards or recognition that ended up being critical to their successful applications. For more information, download our Guide to Self Petition Green Card.

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