Here’s another edition of “Ask 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.”
I’m a UX/UI designer working in Europe at a web3 company in the United States.
I would like to resign from my current position and move to the U.S. to pursue work that allows me to have more autonomy, flexibility, and the ability to take on a variety of projects with different clients in the U.S.
How can I make that happen? Thanks for your help!
—Worldly web3 Wonder
I have long wondered – will web3 make immigration obsolete? Technology scales passive work, heightening and elevating the human experience. I don’t think immigration will be going anywhere anytime soon!
That was echoed by Jason Sosa, a serial entrepreneur and innovation strategy consultant who focuses on the emerging tech space. Jason and I recently chatted about the evolution of the internet and web3 and the future of immigration. “Even though people can now get access to any tech hub,” says Jason, “there’s no replacement for interactions in real space.” He expects the future of work with web3 will be something akin to what you’re now craving: autonomy, collaboration, reciprocity, and diversity – a space where you’re not doing the same thing every day and what you do fits with your interests and skill level.
Let’s dive into some of the U.S. immigration options that will help you get the autonomy and work diversity you crave!
The work visa that allows you to freelance…
Most non-immigrant work visas, which allow you to stay and work temporarily in the United States, are tied to a specific employer that sponsors you for the visa by offering you a job and filing a visa application on your behalf.
Unless you can get a work permit, only one main visa type clearly allows you to do freelance work—in other words, work with multiple companies—and that’s the O-1 visa. With an O-1A, you will need to have a U.S. agent acting either as your employer or representing multiple employers to sponsor you for the O-1. A colleague in your field may act as your U.S. agent, but the petition must provide the details of the relationship between you as the O-1 beneficiary and the U.S. agent.
The O-1 doesn’t provide you with complete autonomy, but it will allow you the freedom to choose a variety of projects in your field at different organizations!
If arranging work projects with multiple employers, at minimum the following should be submitted with your O-1 application:
- A list of all the work projects that you have tentatively lined up in the U.S. over the next three years (which is the maximum length of an initial stay on an O-1);
- How long each project is expected to last;
- The names and addresses of the companies for which you are doing the projects and where they’ll be done.
And talk to your attorney as additional information can support this process with ease and grace!
What it takes to get a ‘genius visa’
There are two categories of O-1 visas: The O-1A visa is for individuals with extraordinary ability in science, education, business, or athletics. The O-1B visa is for individuals with extraordinary ability in the arts or extraordinary achievement in the motion picture or television industry.
If you’ve won a major, internationally recognized award, such as a Nobel Prize, an Olympic medal, or an Oscar or Grammy award, then no prob! You’re immediately eligible for an O-1 visa, which is why it’s often dubbed the “genius visa.” While the O-1 visa is one of the more difficult visas to obtain, getting one is totally possible with a little planning and deliberation to build up your achievements. I recommend that you work with an experienced immigration attorney who can assess your qualifications and help you devise a strategy.
If you haven’t won a major award, no worries! You just need to meet at least three of the following eight criteria, although it’s often helpful to aim for four or more to present a strong case for an O-1A in a business field:
- Received a national or international award for excellence, such as a UX Design Award or a Webby Award for the best user interface.
- Membership in an organization that requires outstanding achievements as judged by experts, such as Design Hangout, a global invitation-only network of professional UX designers.
- You and your work have been the subject of an article published in a professional publication, major trade publication, or major media.
- Participated as a judge of the work of others in your field, such as hackathons or design competitions.
- Made an original scientific, scholarly, or business-related contribution of significance to your field.
- Written articles that were published in scholarly journals, professional journals, or major media.
- Been employed in a critical or essential capacity at a company or organization with a distinguished reputation.
- Command a higher-than-average salary or compensation.
In this previous Ask Sophie™ column, I go into a bit more detail on what it takes to qualify for each of the O-1 criteria. Though that column is aimed at startup founders, it offers some very helpful tips!
Consider sponsoring yourself for a green card
Obtaining a green card will provide you with the freedom and autonomy to work as a freelancer on various UX/UI projects for different companies. Keep in mind that getting a green card is a much longer process than getting a work visa.
Two green cards allow you to apply on your own without an employer or agent sponsor or even a job offer: the EB-1A extraordinary ability green card and the EB-2 NIW (National Interest Waiver) green card.
The bar for qualifying for an EB-1A extraordinary ability green card is higher than for the O-1 extraordinary ability visa – and even the EB-2 NIW green card. However, the requirements for the O-1As are similar to those for the EB-1A, so getting an EB-1A may very well be within reach!
For the EB-2 NIW green card, you must show that you have either an advanced degree or you have exceptional ability (which has lighter requirements than extraordinary ability) and that your work and skills have substantial merit and are important to the United States. I offer tips for submitting a strong EB-1A or EB-2 NIW green card application in this Ask Sophie™ column from last year.
Thanks for reaching out to me with your great question! You’ve got this!
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The information provided in “Ask Sophie™” is general information and not legal advice. For more information on the limitations of “Ask Sophie™,” please view our full disclaimer. You can contact Sophie directly at Alcorn Immigration Law.
Sophie’s podcast, Immigration Law for Tech Startups, is available on all major platforms. If you’d like to be a guest, she’s accepting applications!