How a Career in Internal Communications Qualified me for a US Rock Star Visa

Presenting at a conference, Los Angeles, CA

Growing up in Ireland I always dreamed of living in the US, especially somewhere warm by the sea. I had cousins who lived in New York and I was always green with envy when I would hear about their cosmopolitan upbringing. It could not have been further from my Irish countryside life.

I left Ireland once I finished school and went to university in Scotland and then France. I moved to London to improve my professional opportunities and ended up staying for 10 years. For the last five of those years I was exploring ways to move to the US to work. Many potential opportunities kept coming up, through the global organisations I worked in, but they never seemed to move beyond discussions.

Fast-forward to summer 2015, I travelled to San Francisco for a month to broaden my professional network. Having spent many years working in large corporates I had made the switch to start-ups and decided that improving my network in the heart of start-up land could provide me with opportunities in the future.

While I was on the plane from London to San Francisco a mutual friend, thanks Rebecca, put me in touch with Bulent Osman. Bulent was travelling to San Francisco two weeks after me to set up the US arm of his company, StaffConnect. StaffConnect was and is a mobile-first employee engagement platform. The company I had just finished working for, in London, was very similar. At that time, there were very few companies offering that type of solution. Naturally, Bulent asked if I would be available to have a Skype call. Less than 48 hours after arriving in San Francisco I had a two-hour Skype call with Bulent, back in London, and at the end he offered me a job in his US company.

There was one snag, I needed a US visa. Having come this far I was not going to let that deter me. I searched for local events or meet-ups that covered visa options and I found one scheduled for the following week titled “Visa Options for International Entrepreneurs.” I was not looking to start my own business, I decided to attend anyway as I knew I could learn something.

I was very glad I decided to go. A top San Francisco-based immigration lawyer, Nadia Yakoob, gave a presentation on all the visa options for not only entrepreneurs but also those looking to work in the US. When she got to the O-1 visa, also known as the Rock Star Visa, the title of the slide said, “Individuals of Extraordinary Ability or Achievement” and the first point on the list was “Nobel Laureates or Pulitzer Prize Winners.”

One of the pictures I took at Nadia’s presentation

Everyone laughed. Nadia interjected, “don’t let that put you off.” She went on to explain that for people who have not been awarded either of these accolades there were other criteria you could be graded against, for example;

  • Receipt of lesser nationally and internationally recognized prizes or awards for excellence in the field of endeavor;
  • Published materials about the individual in professional or major trade publications;
  • Participation, either individually or as part of a panel, as a judge of the work of others in the field;
  • Authorship of scholarly articles in the field, as published in professional or major trade publications or in other major media;
  • Serving in a critical or essential capacity for organizations or establishments that have a distinguished reputation

Applicants would have to satisfy at least three out of the total list of eight criteria (five examples given above).

As Nadia talked through them and gave some examples, I began to realise that I could put a tick next to a few of them. I arranged a 1:1 consultation, via Skype, with Nadia for later that week.

I had made a concerted effort throughout my career to seek out and take every opportunity that came my way. In addition to working and consulting for FTSE 500 companies I had challenged myself to get involved in the corporate communications speaking circuit. Due to my niche experience in internal digital communication channels I often received invitations to speak at prestigious events. I also judged other providers’ communication platforms for a web show and shared many insights and best-practices through on-line articles and interviews.

Waiting to go live at WhatApp TV

After reviewing my resume and discussing my field of expertise Nadia told me that she believed I had a very strong case. She said, “all you need now is a job offer.” When I mentioned I had one she got excited for me.

I returned to the UK to work for StaffConnect in London while my visa was being processed. I began the application process in mid-September and received approval in late November. I had satisfied six of the eight criteria.

For context, only 13,865 people were awarded an O-1 visa in 2015 compared to the coveted H1B visa which was awarded to 172,748.

My husband and I moved to San Jose, the capital of Silicon Valley, in January 2016; five months after I first got on the plane to San Francisco to widen my network.

I have been living in California for just over two years and it is all I hoped it would be and more. We moved south to Orange County a year ago so my dream of living by the beach has very much been realised.

Toasting marshmallows on Huntington Beach, CA

I am hoping my California dream does not end here. The current immigration environment is challenging, for everyone. I applied for a green card and recently got declined. I appealed the decision. The United States Citizen and Immigration Services (USCIS) appeals officer conceded that I met the requirements, which is the objective part, but they said after a ‘total merits review’, the subjective part, they felt I was not at the level required for that immigrant visa.

There is no viable way to appeal that officer’s decision as they are considered the expert.

I am hopeful that we can find a way to stay here long term. Whatever the case, I am thankful for my career in internal communications and I look forward to the exciting new opportunities it affords me in the future. Do not let anyone tell you that a career in internal comms is boring!