I was classified as an alien of extraordinary ability. For science! In the field of mobile biometric identification.

It took the better part of the year to gather the courage and send in the petition that consisted of a table of contents, form I-129, a support letter, my resume, 8 reference letters, 6 certifications and 3 media references.

Alien of Extraordinary Ability (O-1A)

Since my work has not yet been recognized by the Nobel committee, I went with the following three criteria:

  • Original scientific, scholarly, or business-related contributions of major significance in the field
  • Employment in a critical or essential capacity for organizations and establishments, that have a distinguished reputation
  • A high remuneration for services as evidenced by contracts

The latter were explained in a single sentence in the support letter from the sponsor and the first criteria was documented by the reference letters, certifications and media references. I did not attach a university degree. 😎

I ended up filing without an immigration attorney, as I was charged a fortune for the following reference letter template and did not receive any of the services I was expecting (a cover letter, reviews and suggestions):

O1-A Reference Letter Template

1. Identify who you are, and give your present address. Describe your organization, how long established, its achievements and philosophy, etc. Describe your qualifications.

2. Describe your own experience and expertise in the field.

3. Describe how you have known the applicant professionally, in what capacity, etc.

4. Describe the basis for your personal knowledge of the applicant’s expertise and achievements in the field.

5. Describe the applicant’s expertise and achievements in specific, factual terms:

  • a. any employment or services, in a critical or essential capacity, which the applicant has rendered for your organization
  • b. or any employment or services, in a critical or essential capacity, which the applicant has rendered for any other distinguished organization
  • c. or any original contributions of major significance the applicant has made to the field
  • d. or any scientific publications or presentations the applicant has authored, or coauthored
  • e. or any articles written about the applicant’s work in his field
  • f. or any other relevant evidence of the applicant’s excellence in the field.

6. Give examples of the applicant’s accomplishments and achievements that confirm, to you, why he is one of that small percentage who have risen to the very top of his field.

7. Confirm that, based on all of the above, in your professional opinion the applicant is an individual who has risen to the very top of his field.

[name, title and signature]

The visa interview was uneventful, except that the scanner picked up a USB stick I had forgotten about in my jacket pocket. After they repeatedly asked me if I had one. And it looked just like a physical key on the screen, so I kept denying that it was a USB stick until they took it out of the jacket. That threw me off balance and did not help my state as I was already exhausted from a coding marathon.

In the interview they asked what work I do, and instead of explaining my work, I just said “Computer Hacker / Software Architect”. They also asked my wife what work she will be doing and she said “Homemaker”. And they asked where we will be moving, which we answered with city and state.

I neglected to hand in a copy of the I-797 – it was in a very unobvious place on the required documents flyer. And I was not aware that I had to pay a reciprocity fee. I mailed both in a few days after the interview, but my case status was changed to “administrative hold” for a few days, causing unnecessary grief.