The Washington Post reported yesterday that Melania Trump was a recipient of the "Extraordinary Ability visa," which the article nicknames the "Einstein visa." A torrent of follow-up articles emphasizes the strict requirements of the EB-1A category and questions how the First Lady could have possibly met the qualifications, implying that something was amiss in her application. We know the real answer, however: getting an EB-1A is simply not that hard.
The EB-1A is the first employment-based immigrant visa category, one of only two categories (the other being the national interest waiver) that is self-petitioned, and it requires no labor certification (with its attendant recruitment schedule and gauntlet of red tape). Also, there are usually no backlogs, which makes it the only practical employment-based green card option for applicants born in India and China. On top of that, it can be premium-processed, which means it is one of the most straightforward ways of obtaining an I-140 immigrant visa petition.
The EB-1A category requires showing "sustained national or international acclaim" in your field and meeting at least 3 out of 10 criteria which include "contributions of major significance" "a leading or critical role" in a "distinguished organization," published material about you in major media, or receipt of nationally or internationally recognized prizes. In the First Lady's case, she had done runway shows in Europe (most likely for distinguished designers), been on a cigarette billboard in Times Square (a significant achievement for a model) and been featured in the Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition (i.e., published material about her in major media).
Our response to these qualifications may surprise some people unfamiliar with EB-1A adjudication: she actually had a pretty good case. Although the EB-1A category has been described as "elite" and only for "Oscar-winning actors" and "Olympic athletes"--and trust me, we hear this all the time, not just from the recent slew of articles but from other immigration lawyers--these cases are granted all the time for individuals with less recognition than the First Lady had at the time of her application. Of course, EB-1A is not for everybody, but it works for more people than the media would have you believe.
For example, we do these cases frequently for high level engineers and supply chain managers from the major oil and oilfield services companies. These individuals can often present inter-company awards for a project well-executed and can assert (given the size of the projects they work on) that a particular strategy they came up with saved millions of dollars or was replicated at other branches of the same company across the world. With some digging it's really not hard to meet three of the ten criteria, and if they have published in their field (even in trade journals or significant online sources) that just adds more weight. We've also done cases for data scientists, biomedical researchers, trading analysts, business consultants, and even professional wrestlers.
So the lesson we can learn from the case of Melania Trump is that EB-1A is more obtainable and realistic than many people think. You don't have to be Einstein!