We are lucky here at the firm to meet so many interesting and talented people from all over the world. But nothing is more frustrating than when we meet someone with a genuine and legitimate reason to be in or come to the US, but we are unable to help them because there is no appropriate visa type that matches their qualifications or situation. This got us to thinking—what if we could invent or re-style existing visas to match some of the people we meet and cannot help. We may have to get creative with the alphabet here…
1. Emerging Artist Visa
So often we meet young talented artists who have come to the US for art school and who show tremendous promise. When their school programs end, unless they can find a job that will sponsor them within the existing visa categories, they are facing a trip home–sometimes to places where they will have very little opportunity to develop their promising artistic talents. Very often there may be training opportunities for them in the US, or short-term jobs as artist assistants, all of which would help the artist to develop their inherent talents and skills. But unfortunately, the usual visas for artists often don’t quite fit.
The O-1 visa is for artists who have already achieved a certain level of distinction or prominence in their field, and the H-1B visa is for “specialty occupations” that require a particular degree or its equivalent to qualify. In addition, of course, the H-1B is limited to 65,000 visas per year and subject to a lottery—making it an unreliable visa category for the vast majority of applicants. The "EA" visa would be reserved for artists who have completed art school or its equivalent and have identified training or other opportunities with the potential to develop the skills to become a working artist in the industry.
2. Foreign Language Visa (Nanny, Teacher, Sports, Film)
Despite the fact that foreign language education and skills in the US are famously lacking, visas based in part or in whole on the ability of its recipient being a native or fluent speaker of a particular language are routinely subject to extra scrutiny, and often, denied. Yet providing visa options for people who are native or fluent speakers—particularly of minority languages or those that are underrepresented in the US—would bring tremendous cultural value to their work in a number of settings.
There are many immigrant families who would happily hire a nanny who is a native speaker of their own language, and there are also many English-speaking families who would love to give their children fluent or near-native ability in a foreign language. It would also be wonderful if there were a visa that provided the possibility of qualified language teachers to come to the US to teach their native language—either in public school or private school settings. The Foreign Language visa could also be very useful to people who coach sports associated with a particular linguistic tradition, and the same visa could be used by talented artists with language skills who can be employed in film and television productions.
3. Retirement Visa
Many people dream of retiring in the US but those dreams are often dashed when they discover that there is no real visa option for retirees looking to spend their final days here. While those with US citizen relatives may qualify for a family-based preference visa, this is not available to most individuals. People of substantial means and wealth may qualify for an investor visa. One of these visas—the E-2 visa—would require that the retiree be willing and able to manage their investment or run a business, and they would also have to make an ultimate commitment to return to their home country when they no longer have the investment. This requirement makes the E-2 visa a less viable option for people looking to retire without working.
Another investment visa—the EB-5 visa—is an immigrant visa (meaning there is no need for the visa holder to promise to return to their home country when they no longer are actively investing), but this visa is reserved for the wealthiest people—those that can invest between $500,000 and $1 million in new and existing US businesses. Wouldn’t it be fantastic to have a visa reserved for people of retirement age who can show that they have the means to support themselves in their golden years in the US?
4. Humanitarian Visa
International humanitarian crises over the last few years have brought into stark relief the need for an orderly and dignified way for people to flee war, persecution, and extreme poverty and violence in their home countries. We have seen that where reasonable, transparent, and expeditious practices are lacking, people will take desperate measures to survive. While the US boasts about its commitment to refugee protection, in fact it has fallen far short of the meager goals it has set to address one of the world’s worst humanitarian crisis—the war in Syria.
While more than 50% of the Syrian population has been displaced by that war, and more than 4.5 million Syrian refugees are in neighboring countries, the US has pledged to help only 10,000 in the fiscal year 2016, and has only managed to actually resettle less than 2,000 refugees. The refugee screening and visa issuance process, while lauded in some quarters for its extensive background checks, in fact drastically inhibits the ability of the US to meet its international obligations. Every Syrian refugee that we fail is a migrant who will take extreme measures to escape that war.
The migrant children coming from the Central American countries of Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador also suffer as a result of the failure of the US immigration system to address humanitarian crises. Over the last several years we have witnessed an unprecedented wave of unaccompanied minors making extraordinarily dangerous treks across Mexico to our southern border, seeking asylum. Many die in the deserts and mountains of the topographically unforgiving border region and those that make it face extensive detention.
These are children who have experienced extreme poverty and violence, and many are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. They need services and education and a chance to reunite with family members who may live in the US. But instead we force them to represent themselves in immigration court and expect them to mold their traumas into traditional asylum claims. And yet asylum law does not adequately address their situations. In the name of due process, we are setting these children up for failure and deportation back to the very violence and poverty they escaped.
Even the US Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS) CAM program requires that the children have a parent in the US in some lawful status, although the majority of Central American children are coming to the US with the hopes of reuniting with parents who do not have any status at all. Were we to have a truly comprehensive and robust humanitarian visa policy, we could avoid these mass illegal migrations that result in tragic headlines over and over again.
5. Culinary Visa
This one’s for the foodies. Simply put, there should be a visa designed with the culinary field in mind. Certainly this industry has creatively made use of the existing visa categories to bring culinary workers to the US, but very often it is likely fitting a square peg in a round hole. Culinary students can come on F student visas, and trainees can make use of the H-3, J-1, or M-1 visa categories, but for entrepreneurial chefs looking to share their home country/culture’s cuisine with American palates, it can be a hard road.
Talented chef-entrepreneurs often have a hard time meeting the evidentiary requirements of an O-1 visa when they cannot show that they have national or international recognition and been recognized as an expert. Someone coming to open a restaurant and share their culinary skills in the US should not have to meet such a high standard. A certified and demonstrated ability to work as a chef should be sufficient to obtain work authorization. Similarly, their front of house staff (hosts, waiters, etc.) should be permitted to come work at their restaurants as well, particularly when they have a pre-existing experience working in such restaurants.