Monday, November 26, 2012

Federal Court Rejects Table Tennis Star's EB-1 "Extraordinary Ability" Immigrant Visa

EB-1 "Extraordinary Ability" is an immigrant visa ("green card") category for an athlete having extraordinary ability "which has been demonstrated by sustained national or international acclaim and whose achievements have been recognized in the field through extensive documentation."  INA § 203(b)(1)(A)(i).  The phrase "national or international acclaim" suggests that foreign athletes who are not one of the best in the world can still qualify provided that they are at the elite level in their home country.  In the past, USCIS has generally been amenable to this interpretation.

However, the federal court for the Southern District of New York has recently taken a very strict interpretation of the EB-1 statute.  Iranian table tennis player Afshin Noroozi, 27, applied for an EB-1 visa on the basis that he had extraordinary ability in table tennis, having finished 65th at the 2008 Olympics and gaining a world ranking of 284th. Noroozi was the first table tennis Olympian from Iran, demonstrating obvious national-level acclaim.  Nevertheless, the court upheld USCIS's denial of Noroozi's EB-1 petition.  
A finding in Noroozi’s favor would effectively oblige the immigration service to grant extraordinary ability visas to every one of the international table tennis players ranked ahead of him, along with the top 284 performers (minus Americans) in every other sport, (District Court Judge) Engelmayer wrote. 
This "slippery slope" reasoning has been deployed before to greatly restrict the number of L-1B specialized knowledge petitions approved by USCIS.  We now see this unfortunate trend expanding into the EB-1 arena.  The Noroozi decision further highlights the need to fully document and make persuasive arguments in EB-1 filings.

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