Extraordinary Immigrants / by Timothy Bakken

A recent story caught my eye because it perfectly portrays the uninformed basis of so much of the current anti-immigrant rhetoric and policy infecting our country. U.S. Senator Grassley, from Nebraska, wrote a letter to the head of the Department of Homeland Security in which he implies that Citizenship and Immigration Services (CIS) is improperly granting O-1 visas to people trying to circumvent H-1B visa restrictions. As an immigration attorney and an officer of the court, I take seriously my oath to uphold the law and I am 100% against the misuse of our immigration laws by those who commit fraud to attempt to qualify for visas to which they are not entitled. However, it is simply inaccurate to denigrate the accomplishments and talents of legitimate O-1 visa holders whom our government has determined satisfy the rigorous O-1 requirements for proving extraordinary ability in a particular field. 

Our firm frequently prepares and files successful O-1 visa petitions on behalf of clients who have demonstrated extraordinary abilities in music, art, athletics, and engineering, among other fields. Some of these clients may also qualify for other visa statuses but have legitimate reasons for selecting the O-1 category. Likewise, some individuals may qualify for O-1 status but decide to apply for a different nonimmigrant visa category for which they also qualify. I trust that the CIS and Senator Grassley understand that an individual who meets the statutory and regulatory requirements for a particular visa status should be granted that status after a careful review of the applicant’s qualifications. 

The problem with Senator Grassley’s letter is a common problem in today’s hysterical anti-immigrant climate, i.e., unfounded allegations and rumors are used to feed the false narrative that immigrants are hurting our country. Try telling that to the multitudes of highly educated and extraordinarily talented musicians, artists, engineers, authors, athletes and many others (as well as their American audiences and employers!) who have chosen to enrich our country with their unique talents.  Anti-immigrant hysteria and paranoia only weakens our country’s cultural excellence and economic prominence.

Timothy R. Bakken