The First Lady, Melania Trump, reportedly obtained US citizenship through the EB-1A Extraordinary Ability visa, on the strength of her former career as a model. In this article, we will examine the qualifying criteria for the EB-1A Extraordinary Ability visa, ways in which one might qualify for the EB-1 visa without national or international recognition and Melania Trump’s own unique path to US citizenship.

The EB-1A Extraordinary Ability Visa: Qualifying Criteria

The EB-1A Extraordinary Ability visa is a very prestigious and rare visa.

In order to qualify for an EB-1A Extraordinary Ability Visa, the applicant must demonstrate, inter alia, that they are one of a small percentage who have risen to the very top of their field of endeavor. In particular, the applicant must demonstrate:

  1. Extraordinary ability in the arts, business, sciences or athletics, demonstrated by sustained national or international acclaim and extensive documentary evidence of achievements;
  2. The applicant seeks entry to the United States to continue work in the area of extraordinary ability (although the applicant does not require an offer of employment); and
  3. The applicant will substantially benefit prospectively the United States by entering.

The evidential requirements when filing an application for an EB-1A Extraordinary Ability visa are strict and stringent. The petition must be accompanied by extensive documentary evidence of extraordinary ability, including evidence of a one-time achievement (that is, a major nationally or internationally recognized prize or award), or at least 3 of the following:

  • Evidence of receipt of a lesser nationally or internationally recognized prize or award for excellence in the field of endeavor
  • Evidence of membership in associations which require outstanding achievements of their members, as judged by recognized experts
  • Published material in professional or major trade publications or major media about the applicant’s work
  • Evidence of participation on a panel, or individually, as a judge of the work of others in the field
  • Evidence of original scientific, scholarly, artistic, or business-related contributions of major significance
  • Evidence of the applicant’s authorship of scholarly articles in the field, in professional or major trade publications or other major media
  • Evidence of the display of the applicant’s work in exhibitions or showcases
  • Evidence that the applicant has performed in a leading or critical role for organizations or establishments having a distinguished reputation
  • Evidence that the applicant has commanded a high salary or other significantly high remuneration for services, in relation to others in the field
  • Evidence of commercial successes in the performing arts, as shown by box office receipts or record, cassette, compact disk, or video sales.

Examples of individuals who may be eligible for an EB-1A Extraordinary Ability visa include Olympic medalists, Pulitzer Prize winning writers and Oscar winning actors and actresses.

Would I Be Eligible for an EB-1A Extraordinary Ability Visa?

There are some applicants for whom demonstrating eligibility for the EB-1A Extraordinary Ability visa is relatively easy, for example, athletes who have won numerous Olympic gold medals and world titles during a long and distinguished career. However, it is important to note that a lack of national and international fame does not necessarily preclude an applicant from successfully obtaining an EB-1A Extraordinary Ability visa.

In reality, when filing an application for an EB-1A Extraordinary Ability visa, the applicant is measured against his or her own professed “field of endeavor” for the purpose of determining whether the applicant has reached the very top of their field of endeavor. Therefore, if the applicant works in a niche industry or a very small field of endeavor and has risen to the top of their game, they may, with a carefully drafted, well-judged and persuasive application, qualify for the EB-1A Extraordinary Ability visa, notwithstanding their lack of national or international fame. Indeed, many thousands of applicants every year successfully secure EB-1A Extraordinary Ability visas, without necessarily being household names. If you believe you qualify for the EB-1A visa on the basis of your work in a niche industry, please call us for a complimentary assessment of eligibility.


Melania Trump’s Route to US Citizenship

Melania Knauss, as she was then known, filed an application for an EB-1A Extraordinary Ability visa in 2000. At the time of filing, Melania had worked as a runway model in Europe and had featured in a handful of UK and US magazines. Most notably, she appeared on the cover of the British “GQ” magazine, on a fur rug on Donald Trump’s private jet and in the swimsuit edition of the US magazine “Sports Illustrated”.

The basis upon which Melania’s application for an EB-1A Extraordinary Ability visa was approved is unclear. It is noteworthy that at the date her application was filed, Melania Knauss was a relative unknown in the modelling world. She had not excelled in any niche area of the modelling industry, for example, and had not won any major awards for her modelling. Born in Slovenia, Melania was working as a model in New York on a non-immigrant work visa and dating Donald Trump at the time of her application – the latter, no doubt, raising her profile in the US. Melania’s application for an EB-1 Extraordinary Ability visa was approved in 2001 and, remarkably, Melania was one of only five Slovenian nationals to secure the prestigious visa that year.

Melania’s former US immigration attorney has declined to comment upon her application. Indeed, Melania’s application appears to have been significantly weaker than a recent BIA appeal case in which a German fashion model – who had appeared in a string of top fashion publications, including Vogue, Elle, Cosmopolitan and Glamour, in addition to appearing in advertising campaigns for Avon, Clairol and L’Oréal – was denied an EB-1A  Extraordinary Ability visa, due to an inability to demonstrate sufficient evidence of “extraordinary ability”.

There is a possibility that Melania’s EB-1A Extraordinary Ability visa application was bolstered by testimonial letters from high-profile figures in the modelling world. Melania’s relationship with Donald Trump and rising profile in the US may have enabled her to obtain testimonials from leading figures in the modelling world, which would have significantly strengthened her application and may have led to her approval.

Ironically, becoming a US citizen in 2006 enabled Melania to petition for her parents to obtain US lawful permanent resident status and join her in the United States, in a move known as “chain migration” – something President Trump has recently vociferously expressed an intention to end.

Davies Legal Immigration

At Davies Legal Immigration, we offer advice and representation in connection with all non-immigrant and immigrant visa categories, including the EB-1 Extraordinary Ability visa. We provide a diligent, comprehensive service at a fixed fee, so you know at the outset precisely how much you will need to pay. Call now for a complimentary assessment of eligibility and take the first step towards achieving your own personal “American Dream”.


Published: 6th March 2018