The United States is home to some of the most prestigious and famous architecture firms that design global landmarks and buildings all around the world. The most viable visa options for a typical architect to come to the United States to work is either a H-1B or O-1 visa. Considering the differences between an H-1B and O-1, there are many reasons why an O-1 might be a more viable option for an architect.
For architects who have relevant work experience abroad and come to the United States, either on J-1 programs or to pursue higher education, staying in the United States to pursue their careers is an attractive pathway towards an enriching and rewarding life, both professionally and personally.
After working on numerous O-1 petitions for architects from around the world, there are a few underlying industry-specific commonalities that resonate throughout an O-1 petition filing for an architect.
License to Architect
For those who are licensed architects in their home country abroad, but yet to be licensed in the United States, the occupational title “architect” cannot be used. USCIS generally will not approve petitions involving specific occupations that require licensure unless the applicant is licensed. There are other occupational titles available for those who are not licensed architects in the United States, one of the common ones being “architectural designer”.
It is quite common that work structures within architecture firms are constructed around a designated team of architects, as opposed to just one, with different people handling different components of the project at large. USCIS frequently attacks the collaborative nature of the work by arguing that the architect-applicant is not “leading” or “starring” if he or she were not to be solely responsible for the entire project, or if say, the supporting materials do not evidence the applicant’s name crediting him or her to the project. Here, USCIS is not appreciating the collaborative nature of the work nor the sheer scale of the project. A 200-floor skyscraper or a concert hall may very much likely involve a collective team of architects working on it and it is important to inform the USCIS of both the nature of architectural work processes and/or the scale of the project itself.
Specializations Within Architecture
I have come across architects who work in different specializations within the architectural field , whether that be designing for residential buildings, major commercial buildings, urban design, engineering, historic sites, or illustrative renderings of various structural objects and themes. Others who are more project-based oversee the project itself in terms of management and logistics. Having an understanding of these various subsets will greatly help in shaping the evidentiary materials and to show how the applicant is renowned in their respective fields.
I have reviewed many wonderful portfolios containing exquisite works of design and art that have impressed even my amateur eyes. Therefore, it is somewhat surprising to see that the general salary of the industry, especially those in junior roles, are quite low. The median wage for architects in the United States is around $72,000 according to the Sokanu. Although the O-1 has no set prevailing wage requirement like the H-1B, it can be a subsidiary factor in construing the applicant’s level of renown in the field. To address this, data about the industry’s median wage level should be included to allow the adjudicator to be aware of such lower standards within the architecture field.
One Project vs. Multiple Projects
USCIS frequently review petitions containing multiple projects. However, some applicants may have worked on only one major project for the past several years involving several different phases of the project, such as the design phase, appraisal phase, and construction phase. It is important to break these large-scale projects down into phase-specific projects, each with a specific phase-project name with a distinct time frame and work descriptions, and present the information as such. Presentation of the information is very important in allowing the adjudicating officer to easily view and assess the materials in a cohesive and comprehensive manner. It should never been simply assumed that USCIS officers will already have an understanding of industry-specific norms about project types and sizes.
Working with architectural professionals has allowed me to take a glimpse into what they do on a daily basis and some of the wonderful designs they work on. It is incredible to see magical designs come to life and seeing the work flow that’s involved in achieving those creations. There are numerous issues that can come up in any O-1 petition, but with a set of strategies and tactics in putting together the key evidentiary materials, the overall likelihood of success of the O-1 petition can be maximized to the fullest extent possible.
The O-1 is a viable option available to most architects, however, there are also various other options that may be available, for example, Australian citizens can apply for the E-3 visa; Canadians and Mexicans can apply for the TN visa; L-1 visa if the foreign branch of the architecture firm is looking to transfer the applicant to work for the US branch; or architects from a country that has a treaty with the US coming to invest a substantial amount of capital into a US business may consider an E-2 treaty investor visa.
If you are an architect and want to learn more about the O-1 visa or other options that may be available to you, contact our office on 718-539-1100 or email@example.com.