Interview with Michael Cataliotti

  Hello Michael Cataliotti thank you so much for taking the time to do this interview. It really means a lot having you here. Start by telling us something about yourself, your background and your professional expertise. How long have you been working as an attorney? Where are you located? I've been working in law for 18 years, starting when I was 19 years old. I've worked in about 15 different areas of law, handled a wide range of matters, and ultimately found my passion to be in helping individuals move around the world to pursue their dreams and passions. I've been doing this particular work for around 13 years, and I'm based in New York, with an office in Manhattan and on Long Island.

Q: Is it an exciting job?
A: On any given day, I go from having a conversation with an acrobat, to an award-winning journalist, to an internationally renowned and award-winning tattoo artist, to a cancer researcher, to an archaeologist, to an architectural designer, and lose with a software developer. All of these individuals are revered in their circles. It's invigorating to work with these folks.

Q: What do you like the most?
A: The ability to help people from around the world to develop their crafts, expand their reach, realize their goals, and do it for a broad, diverse clientele is so rewarding.

Q: You help many tattoo artists in their process to get a work visa. Please explain the process.
A: It all begins with reviewing the artist's credentials and qualifications. For example: do they have awards or honors, press or media, or any other significant acclaim? Maybe their work has gone viral online or been picked up by media on Instagram. And note that Instagram is not bad for the process. While US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) typically discounts or disregards Instagram and other social media, if we demonstrate that the posts are either documentation of receipt of awards, or posted by a major media outlet like Sikn Artists Magazine. Next, if I believe that the indivisual qualifies, I consider the nature and style of their work. My practice is diverse and not beholden to any one industry or profession, so, I only take on artists whose work I like and believe in. I feel that if I can't properly champion their qualifications, I can't properly represent them, and so, if I dislike or don't believe in the quality of their artwork, I won't take them on as a client. Thereafter, we like to send a detailed overview about the entire process to the individual artist, which explains our expectations of them and what they can expect of us, as their representative, including costs. If they wish to proceed, we have a phone call or initial consultation to evaluate whether we can work together professionally and get along. If all goes well, we decide to move forward collectively, and begin the process of drafting letters of recommendation and compiling information about the artist's achievements and accomplishments.

Q: What documents the artists should provide?
A: Always start by providing your Instagram, and any honors, awards, press, seminars, or conventions that you've been to and participated in.

Q: How important is the motivation letter?
A: If you mean the support letter or brief that details how and why the individual artist qualifies for the talent or artist visa (O-1B), I would say, let your lawyer write it. At least, I always write these, but I send them to my clients to fill in as much detail and information as possible about various events where appropriate. While I try to minimize their responsibilities-after all, I'm the one who has been doing this for over a decade and has the expertise across industries. I don't and can't expect the artist to have the same level of knowledge and experience that I have.

Q: Any tips for writing a good one?
A: Support your attorney in their drafting process. If they need or want details, give them everything, don't hold back. Let them discern what is or is not necessary or appropriate for your case.

Q: How long people wait for approval?
A: This largely depends on the service center and method of processing. For instance, at the Vermont Service Center, with regular processing, you can expect an initial response within 6-8 weeks of the date that USCIS receives the petition, whereas in California, it can take 6-8 months to get an initial response. If you need or want a quicker response, you can upgrade to premium processing which will give you an initial reply from USCIS within 15 calendar days of when they receive the case. BUT, premium processing costs an extra $2,500, which is certainly not a small amount of money.

Q: What is a good portfolio? A lot of experience in a professional studio, good skills? What the authorities see first?
A: Think about your audience: the easier it is for them to understand that you are an incredible artist, the easier it is for them to approve the filing. So, if you've been on TV, quoted as an expert, taught others how to perfect the craft, won awards, that is what USCIS wants to see and what makes the process easier. Now, this isn't to discourage individuals who don't have all of these items, but rather, it is about understanding what is ideal, and working backwards from there to determine where you, as an artist, fit in.

Q: How important is formal art training, college/university degree?
A: For the O-1, not at all. Now, if we talk about green card paths, then a degree can be incredibly beneficial depending on the path that is pursued. For example, an artist might pursue an EB-2 with a National Interest Waiver (NIW), to demonstrate that they have exceptional abilities or an advanced degree in their field, and that their work benefits both the US culture and economy.

Q: You work with artists from all over the world. Which countries have easier immigration policies with USA?
A: Most countries have an easier immigration process, because it is more objective and, in many instances, point-based. For instance, if you’re going to the UK, which has tough immigration policies and practices, but you’ve won certain awards, like a Bessie Performance Award for dance - an award that is lesser-known in the US, despite being significant, you will likely have an easy time obtaining a “UK talent visa”. Unfortunately, someone from the UK who’s won a Bessie wouldn’t have as much if an easier time getting an O-1… And it is an American award!

Q: What do you say to someone who might or got rejected? Your advice?
A: I love this question. No one ever talks about denials, but they are inevitable. You could have the perfect case, but an officer disagrees, is in a foul mood, is rushing, and no matter how good the case may be, the officer can deny the case with significant latitude and discretion. But!! With proper forethought and planning, you can still get the visa. I always take a case that I know it qualifies. I look at it and think about whether I can win an appeal or a motion if it is denied, and I work backwards. But you can always apply multiple times!! There is nothing wrong with doing that, especially if you show new evidence or arguments.

Q: In my opinion, immigrating to America can be a life changing experience. To be able to work with many professionals in a free society, to be part of the big scene and grab all the opportunities that will come. No wonder why many are trying to get there and see if the American dream is possible for them. Do you agree?
A: Absolutely. America is the largest, most diverse marketplace you can have. Other countries may have a bigger population or otherwise, but we have the beauty of diversity and homogeneity (of free thought) at the same time.

Q: To be completely honest, my heart breaks when I see someone who is exceptionally talented, but can't go through this process. I'm talking about someone from a small country who has a couple of hundreds of euros as an average salary, therefore very little to no chance to financially afford this big step. Is there any way to get like a sponsored visa from the shop owner, their employer?
A: There are some organizations that offer support for those without funds, and in my own practice, I take a handful of cases on a pro bono basis when folks can't afford it. Like you said, it breaks my heart, as well, and look, if I really wanted to make oodles of money, I'd go back to entertainment or corporate law. One of the big reasons I stick with immigration is because I genuinely love helping people.

Q: Do you have a favorite success story from a client that you worked with?
A: Absolutely. A tattoo artist who is/was immensely qualified and supremely talented came to me after his other firm just stopped responding to him and his employer's inquiries. Several months had passed when I came into the picture and I took over the case. We filed, received a rough request for evidence (RFE) from USCIS to clarify his information. We responded thoroughly with great detail and substantiation, but his case was denied. So, I said, "Hold on. We're not finished. We fight until the end and stay until the job is done." We refiled, received another RFE and then, *poof* it was approved. He's now in the US, and within his first week of being here, he won a Best of Show award. Someone who is this talented faced one hurdle after the next, almost didn't get here, but now, he's in the US, thriving, and killing it.

Q: Your advice for those who just got there? How to better adapt to the American culture?
A: This is tough to answer, because so much of it depends on where in the US you go. NY isn't Miami, which isn't Texas or Hawaii. But, what I'll say is, stick with your network, don't try to do it alone, and lean on your attorney if you need to. At least in my case, I try to let folks know that I'm always around, always available to help navigate complexities and nuances.

Now, let's say a few words about you,

Q: Working with tattoo artists all the time, I guess you see tattoos almost every day. I guess you like tattoos and how the industry evolved, especially in the past decade?
A: The array of talent and artistry, the equipment advances, it's all so great to see, so inspiring. I love how much of a widely accepted and revered art form it become.

Q: Any tattoos on yourself maybe? I assume you are that cool!
A: Haha Well, I have a left-arm sleeve by Andres Makishi, am finishing my right-arm sleeve, which has been done entirely by the great Zhimpa Moreno, am working to redo-not cover up, but thoroughly enhance and expand my back with Camilo Tuero, and am scheduling my chest with Paul Aramayo. I'm hoping to get some work done on my leg by Miguel Hest and, the legend, Darwin Enriquez, as well.

Q: How do you manage the busy schedule and what do you do in your free time?
A: Aside from managing my practice and staff, reviewing filings, drafting RFEs, I also sit on the Board of Huntington Arts Council on Long Island, Dance/NYC in Manhattan, and am a husband and father to two brilliant little girls (5 and 3). I don't really have much free time, but I try to fill it with walking. I walk between 5 and 12 miles (8-19km) per day, playing one of my guitars, building and launching model rockets with my girls, or having a dance party with them.

Q: I bet you are easy to work with, professional but approachable. How we can contact you?
A: Very kind of you to say. It's something a lot of clients say about me. My instagram is @cataliottilaw, website is www.cataliottilaw.com  and e-mail is michaelc@cataliottilaw.com  And, why not, if someone really wants to text me, my cell is 1.516.857.5980 (SMS, Telegram, WhatsApp, iMessage, Signal).