A blog about U.S. immigration matters by Paul Szeto, a former INS attorney and an experienced immigration attorney and counsel. Contact Info: 732-632-9888, http://www.1visa1.com/ (All information is not legal advice and is subject to change without prior notice.)

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Top Iranian table tennis player denied extraordinary ability visa

A top Iranian ping pong player was denied an extraordinary ability alien visa by the USCIS, and the decision was upheld by a U.S. federal district court.   In order to obtain an EB-1(a) extraordinary ability visa, a petitioner must have won a single major, international recognized award (e.g. a Nobel prize) or, alternatively, produce evidence establishing that he meets at least three of the 10 listed criteria in the regulation.  Here the Iranian player Norrozi was found to have met only two of the 10 listed criteria. Specifically, although Norrozi was found to have won “lesser nationally or internationally recognized prizes or awards” and held “membership in associations”, he failed to demonstrate that (1) he had held “a leading or critical role” for his past participation in tournaments, and (2) there was published material about him in professional or major trade publications or other major media.

Leading or Critical Role
            Norrozi participated in a highly selective process to obtain membership on the Iranian national table tennis team to participate in the Olympics.  He had to compete with the best table tennis players in this country in a national tournament and became the national champion before he was selected.  In fact, he was the only player that was selected to be on the national team.  Norrozi argued that the highly selective process and the fact that he is the only team player representing his country clearly indicates that he was playing ping pong in a leading or critical role.  However, the USCIS takes the position that “to play a critical or leading role on a team presupposes making leadership contributions in relation to one’s teammates” but Norrozi had no teammates.  The federal court found the conclusion reasonable.

Published Material about the Player
            Norrozi also presented numerous news articles to support his position that there were published materials about him as a table tennis player.  However, both the USCIS and the court observed that the articles submitted are mostly about the Iranian Table Tennis Team and only mention Norrozi briefly.  In order to meet the “published material” criterion, the regulations require that published material must be about the petitioner relating to his work in the field, but not just about his employer or a related organization.   Hence, Norrozi also failed to meet this criteria.

Overall Merits Determination
            As part of the new adjudication standards implemented by USCIS following the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals’ decision in Kazarian, the government must also conduct a final merits determination to decide if the petitioner should be granted an extraordinary ability visa.  This is the second step of the adjudication process.  A determination is made based on the totality of the evidence whether the petitioner has established that she belongs to a small percentage of individuals who have risen to the top of their field of endeavor; and that she has sustained national or international acclaim as recognition of her achievements.  Here, Norrozi ranks 284th in the world in table tennis, which places him in the 17th percentile of all ranked players.  He also finished in 65th place in the 2008 Olympic table-tennis competition.  Although his accomplishments are indeed impressive, both the USCIS and the court concluded that he does not belong to that small percentage of top table tennis players to qualify for an extraordinary ability visa. 

            This is actually the second petition filed by Mr. Norrozi.  His first petition was initially approved by the USCIS but was subsequently reopened for review after the government noticed that the attorney who handled his petition had filed a large number of extraordinary ability cases from Iran.  The first petition was eventually denied under the new Kazarian standard.  Mr. Norrozi’s case highlights the reality that the extraordinary ability visa is granted only to a small percentage of individuals who have risen to the very top of their field of endeavor.   Under the new USCIS policy, even if a petitioner has satisfied three of the 10 enumerated criteria, an adjudication officer may still conclude that she failed the final merits determination and deny her petition. 

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