Many foreign nationals work in the US culinary industry. Of course, this is not surprising since American cuisine has long been influenced by culinary traditions from around the world. While there are a number of visa options that may be suitable for restaurant workers, in this post we are focusing on one of the most common visas available for highly talented chefs, bakers, and front of house staff. That’s the O-1B, for artists of extraordinary ability. (Yes, chefs are artists too!) We’ve previously discussed the O-1 generally and specifically for the TV and film industry, but for those culinary talents considering visa options for the US, we have an O-1 recipe for you! (Okay, this is a little silly, but we’re always looking for new ways to explain complex visas processes.)
- A US petitioner willing to employ and sponsor the culinary professional;
- A culinary professional (e.g., Executive Chef, Pastry Chef, Head Sous Chef, or Maître D’) who is “extraordinary” and can provide evidence of at least three of six evidentiary criteria for the O-1B visa. (The culinary talent must be “ripe” meaning they have worked in the industry for several years. An inexperienced culinary talent may cause this recipe to fail);
- The requisite forms to be filed with US Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS), including the G-28, I-129 with the O Supplement;
- A support letter from the US petitioner; and
- A consultation letter from the American Culinary Federation;
* Please note that this is not intended to be a comprehensive list.
1. Consult with an immigration attorney
Navigating the US immigration system is not an easy task, especially since it is constantly changing. For that reason, we recommend that US petitioners and foreign nationals consult with an immigration attorney to figure out what their best options are when it comes to working in the US. Not everyone qualifies for an O-1B visa, for example, but they may have other viable options; an experienced immigration attorney can help outline those options and determine which one is most likely to be successful.
2. Collect the evidence
In order to qualify for the O-1B visa, the culinary professional must demonstrate at least three of the six evidentiary criteria that Immigration looks for in all O-1B petitions. This evidence could include reference letters from experts in the culinary field attesting to the foreign national’s extraordinary ability, press about the foreign national or the establishments where they have worked, evidence of industry awards (e.g., Michelin stars, James Beard awards, and so on), the receipt of a high salary by the foreign national as compared with others in the field, and more. Once all of this evidence has been collected, the attorney can make a determination as to which of the six categories of evidence should be claimed.
3. Prepare the forms and documents for filing with Immigration
In addition to the evidence discussed above, the O-1B petition requires a support letter from the petitioner establishing why the foreign national is eligible for the visa category, as well as several government-issued forms. These forms and letter can be lengthy and it is important that they are filled out correctly, which is why it’s recommended for an experienced immigration attorney to assist with this process.
4. Obtain the union consultation letter
Before the petition can be submitted to USCIS, a union consultation letter must be obtained from the American Culinary Federation (ACF). This letter must state the foreign national’s ability and achievements in the culinary field, the nature of duties to be performed, and whether the position requires the services of an individual of extraordinary ability. In order to obtain this consultation, a copy of the foreign national’s O-1 petition must be sent to the ACF (along with a fee) so that the union can make a determination. The union consultation letter must be sought even if the foreign national applicant is not a member of the union.
5. File with Immigration
Once the union has issued its consultation letter, it should be included in the foreign national’s O-1 petition, which can now be submitted to USCIS. Once Immigration receives the package, an immigration officer will examine the evidence and decide whether or not the foreign national is indeed “extraordinary” in the culinary field. If they decide that the foreign national qualifies, they will approve the case. If not, they may either deny the case or issue a request for additional evidence.
6. Receive approval notice and obtain visa stamp
If the foreign national’s case is approved, they will receive an I-797 Approval Notice—hooray! But just to make things more confusing, this approval notice is not the visa. There is one more step that must be taken before the foreign national can travel to the US to work: they must obtain a visa stamp at a US Embassy/Consulate abroad (except for Canadians).
7. Arrive in the US and start making culinary masterpieces!
Once the foreign national receives their visa stamp, they can finally travel to the US to work for the petitioner and start making amazing culinary creations! Seriously, this is our favorite part. We love delicious food—international or American, we eat it all!