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What is the difference between a “leading role” and a “critical role” in O1 and EB1 applications?

A group of leaders

One of the ten evidentiary criteria relevant to both O1 and EB1 petitions is “evidence that the individual has performed in a leading or critical role for organizations or establishments that have a distinguished reputation.”  What does “leading” or “critical” mean here? What is the difference between a leading and critical role? Does the applicant’s role need to be both leading or critical, or either leading or critical?

The answer is that an applicant must have performed in either a leading or critical role, but not necessarily both. “Leading” and “critical” also have different meanings and are assessed differently, so it is worth taking a closer look.

Leading role

To show a role is “leading” in an organization or department/division, the leading nature of the role should be apparent by its position in the overall organizational hierarchy, and the duties required for the role. In simple terms, a leading role means a high-ranking role in the organization, such as Chief Executive Officer (CEO). If the organization is defined as the Engineering Division of a corporation, the Head of Engineering would be a leading role of that organization. The USCIS will look at the title of the role, and appropriate job duties matching that title, to confirm that a position was indeed “leading.”

Critical role

To show a role is “critical,” the applicant must have contributed in a way is “significant importance to the outcome” of an organization or establishment’s activities. Rather than the title of the role, the applicant’s actual performance in the role determines whether the role was “critical.” The Petitioner’s contribution must have been critical to the organization (or division) itself, such as by “influenc[ing] the organization’s overall reputation or status,” instead of the contributions being limited to a particular project within the organization.

Evidence of Leading or Critical Role

The applicant’s performance of a leading or critical role is evidenced by letters from employers, which attest to the applicant’s role in the organization. These letters must contain detailed and probative information that specifically addresses how the person’s role was leading or critical. Specific examples must be given on how the individual’s personal involvement led to the tangible successes for the organization, for example by directly resulting in securing funding for future projects (in the case of a research institute).

The organization must have a Distinguished Reputation

Finally, it is worth emphasizing that merely playing a leading or critical role in any organization is not sufficient; the applicant must also prove that the organization itself has a “distinguished reputation.” USCIS defines distinguished reputation as “marked by eminence, distinction, or excellence,” which may be supported by the relative size of the organization or its longevity. Other evidence of distinction can also be used, such as evidence of the organization being recognized as a frontrunner in the industry through awards, 3rd-party rankings or mentions, and general notoriety in the media or public discourse.


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