Michael Jordan, Steffi Graf, the UConn Women’s Basketball Team, Deion Sanders… other than incredible success, what do think they have in common?

They all had incredibly good and hardworking coaches with a knack for producing winners – Phil Jackson, Peter Graf, Geno Auriemma, Jim Harbaugh respectively, were able to nurture nascent talent and through hard work and motivation, transform them into game-winning champions. Although, great praise is showered on the Coach, the players are the ones winning the accolades and trophies, and being covered by the press.

This presents a unique problem when processing O-1 Visas for Coaches. Time and time again, we face a difficult situation where we have to take a Coach from his proverbial place in the shadow of the player to being recognized as “outstanding” and worthy of being granted an O-1 Visa. Petitions on behalf of coaches are by far the hardest to document. We have to show that the Coach has risen to very top of his field of endeavor.

The regulations require that a person of “extraordinary ability in the fields of science, education, business, or athletics [and] must demonstrate sustained national or international acclaim and recognition for achievements in the field of expertise.”

According to the USCIS, to establish eligibility for an O-1A visa you must have either received a major internationally recognized award similar to a Nobel Prize, or submit evidence that positively answers at least 3 of the 8 questions below:

  • Have you received a lesser nationally or internationally recognized prize or award for excellence in the field of endeavor?
  • Are you a member of any associations which require outstanding achievements of their members as judged by recognized national or international experts?
  • Is there published material in professional or major trade publications or major media about you which relates to your work in the field?
  • Have you participated on a panel or individually as a judge of the work of others in the same or in an allied field of specialization?
  • Have you made original scientific, scholarly or business-related contributions of major significance?
  • Have you authored scholarly articles in professional journals or other major media?
  • Have you been employed in a critical or essential capacity for organizations and establishments that have a distinguished reputation?
  • Have you or will you command a high salary or other remuneration for your services?

Unfortunately, from the above list it will become apparent that the evidentiary criteria for O-1 Visas appear not to be designed, or drafted with athletes (let alone coaches) in mind. Only a few of these questions seem applicable to athletes in general and even fewer to a coach. For instance, publishing papers certainly doesn’t apply to how a coach goes about his job in this field. For instance, while athletes can at least show tournaments winnings, prize money, and membership in professional leagues to demonstrate their eligibility, these do not readily pertain to coaches. Therefore, it seems unfair that the even the best coaches in the world would be ineligible to show they are of “extraordinary ability” and have “risen to the very top of their field”.

Fortunately there is an alternative means of documenting evidence of extraordinary ability, especially for coaches. If the criteria represented in the ten-questions above do not readily apply, comparable evidence may be submitted in order to establish eligibility. This offers more flexibility; however, it is entirely left to the practitioner’s creativity to find the right documentation. We have, over the years, worked extensively with coaches to find ways to document their unique coaching skills including evidence of extraordinary ability. For instance, one could show a coach is of O-1 caliber by tracing the development and achievements of the players and teams he has coached. Also, many great coaches were once great players. So, documenting the evolution of the player into a coach would also be a way of showing how the individual has risen to the very top of his field. Another hallmark of a great coach is that they attract great players. The competition at the top of any sport is incredibly tough and players need every advantage they can get. When presented with a shot at the title, or a chance to go to a Grand Slam event, or the World Cup, players turn to those individuals who have proven themselves time and again for guidance and when that player succeeds, that success is, in its own way, just as attributable to the coach.

Our Office works very closely with coaches to find ways of documenting extraordinary ability. Call us, or email us today to discuss your options.

— This article was prepared with contributions from Attorney Matthew Snyder – an Associate with the Firm.