What is the Impact of Team Awards on the EB1A Process? - Silmi Law Firm


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July 11, 2024

What is the Impact of Team Awards on the EB1A Process?

A team award is a recognition given to a group of individuals who have collectively accomplished a significant contribution or demonstrated excellence in a particular field or project. Unlike individual awards, which highlight the personal achievements of an individual, team awards recognize the collaborative efforts, and success of a team working together towards a shared goal. 

While team awards are valuable in acknowledging group efforts and achievements, they present a challenge when it comes to meeting specific criteria set by USCIS. USCIS’s two-step test for evaluating nationally or internationally recognized awards under the EB1A (Extraordinary Ability) category emphasizes individual recognition, which team awards inherently lack. Under this test:

First, USCIS looks at whether the individual personally received prizes or awards. This part considers the individual receiving the award, as opposed to the team or employer. Since team awards are given to the collective effort of a team, not an individual, they fail this requirement. 

Furthermore, since the team award does not satisfy the requirement of the first part, it is disqualified from further consideration under the EB1-A category. 

While it is true that the USCIS generally considers team awards to be less valuable than individual awards, they can still hold significant merit for the EB1A petition. Team awards can be particularly helpful in the following scenarios:

1. Team Award within Critical or Leading Role Criterion for Organization and Establishment 

Even though team awards may not be directly considered under the individual award category, they can be instrumental in meeting the critical role criterion for EB1A. The critical role criterion assesses the applicant’s critical or leading role in the success and outcome of an organization or establishment. Here, team awards can serve as documentary evidence of the applicant’s critical involvement and leadership within a successful team effort.

To effectively leverage the individual’s team awards under critical or leading role, applicants should clearly outline their leadership positions, unique skills, or innovative ideas that contributed to the team’s success. They should also support these claims with letters from team members, supervisors, or industry experts attesting to their unique contributions. Additionally, it is important to convey the significance of the team award by providing context about the competition, the standard of review and selection, and the prestige associated with the award. Finally, it is important to note that there might be an overlap between individual’s “leading or critical roles” and their “original contributions of major significance” in many scenarios. For instance, if you have been part of a team that received an award, this could be relevant to both criteria. In such cases, it is essential to clearly articulate your individual contributions and how they were pivotal to the team’s success. Highlighting your unique role and the impact of your work will strengthen the case for your EB1A application.

2. Team award within Final Merit Determination

Additionally, team awards can be elaborated under the final merit determination phase of the EB1A. In the final merit determination,  USCIS reviews the totality of the evidence to determine if the applicant is among the top in their field. Officers cannot restrict the types of evidence or deny a petition simply because a specific type is missing, as long as other qualifying evidence is provided. For instance, an officer may believe that an extraordinary individual should have a national or international award to be recognized as an extraordinary individual; however, the petition cannot be denied solely because such an award is not submitted, as long as other evidence meets the three qualifying criteria demonstrating the person’s extraordinary ability. 

Additionally, during the final merit determination, officers may evaluate any relevant and comparable evidence, even if it does not fall under specified regulatory criteria. This means that all submitted evidence is assessed collectively to determine the applicant’s extraordinary ability. For example, a team award, which might not fall under the national and international awards criterion, can still be considered as part of the final merit determination. The officers can take into account the significance of the team award, and how this evidence collectively supports the applicant’s claim of being at the top of their field. This flexible approach ensures that every piece of evidence is thoroughly evaluated in the final merit determination.


By Sima Majnooni

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