BAL Senior Associate Cecilia Lai will speak on a panel about EB-1A/Bs, NIWs and O visas on Friday, March 31, at the Spring Conference of the Texas Chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA). We recently sat down with Cecilia to discuss these topics.   

What is the number one challenge employers face when it comes to EB-1A and EB-1B petitions?

Both EB-1A and EB-1B petitions have always faced high scrutiny and must establish that the individual is internationally recognized as extraordinary or outstanding, resulting in a subject evaluation by USCIS adjudicators.  

It can be difficult to manage expectations for both the beneficiary and employers due to inconsistent adjudications or a lengthy Request for Evidence (RFE) or Notice of Intent to Deny (NOID) from USCIS. The premium processing cases have a higher likelihood of receiving NOIDS that can be difficult to overcome, especially because you are only provided 30 days to respond. We have seen more successful outcomes when USCIS provided extensions for responses to NOIDs as part of COVID-related flexibilities when individuals were able to take advantage of the additional time. However, the flexibilities recently expired and will not apply for RFEs or NOIDs issued on March 23, 2023, and later.  

What options do employers have other than H-1B or L-1 visas?

Employers can use O-1s as a last resort to prevent the loss of work authorization for employees such as F-1 students who had no luck with the H-1B lottery or individuals in H or L who are maxing out on their time. When employers are faced with seeing individuals need to relocate from or leave the U.S., they should consider an O-1 visa, so they don’t have to transfer the individual outside the U.S., which can be costly, or worse, completely lose the talent. 

What are some risks in applying for an O-1?

The employer needs to have an appetite for risk and patience for the hiring process. O-1s are evidence heavy and highly subjective, so that can mean delays in hiring, especially if USCIS issues a Request for Evidence. We typically walk BAL clients through the evaluation for the O-1 to manage expectations for any risks of delays or denials, especially for highly sought candidates. Also, the approval rate for O-1 visas is quite high, generally between 80% and 95%.  

What are other challenges associated with O-1s?

Outside of the traditional occupations for O-1s, such as researchers, scientists, and artists and entertainers, most people don’t think about O-1s for business or other roles. While it’s true there are three criteria to meet — temporary nature of the role, demonstrated extraordinary ability by sustained national or international acclaim, or a record of extraordinary achievement in the motion picture industry — there is one that is a “catchall,” and that is “any other comparable evidence that shows someone has extraordinary ability.” This is an area that you can let the creative juices flow.  

How did you decide to practice immigration law?

I first started in entertainment law while still studying for the bar when our family friend, who manages a native Dallas rapper, introduced me to an entertainment lawyer who needed assistance. But immigration law was probably my destiny. My maternal grandparents first came to the U.S. from China. My mother met my father when he was a foreign exchange student from Hong Kong studying in the U.S. When I finished law school, my family and friends were always turning to me for immigration advice. They wanted someone they could trust even though I didn’t yet have immigration law experience. So I made the switch from entertainment law to immigration law. 

What do you find rewarding about practicing immigration law?

What’s really rewarding about immigration versus entertainment is you see things through to a resolution. You work with individuals who have a dream and dreams for their families, and you experience the positive impacts firsthand. With entertainment law in Dallas, there is seldom a “resolution.” We set up the client’s company and contracts, and things just don’t move forward or the client moves to L.A. for more opportunities. However, I am still involved in the industry as a legal advisor to the Asian Film Festival of Dallas and served as its executive director recently. 

Cecilia Lai is a Senior Associate in BAL’s Dallas office. Cecilia previously handled immigration for one of the largest tech companies in the world. Currently, Cecilia works with multiple clients in the advertising and biotech industries. She finds innovative ways to effectively manage the companies’ immigration needs for foreign national employees in the United States. Cecilia has worked with the clients’ lead stakeholders to create a competitive immigration program in multiple industries and find solutions to talent acquisition and retention that align with their business goals. She finds innovative solutions during a time of fierce competition for STEM talent and a highly fluid immigration policy environment.