O-1 visas are set aside for individuals who are the best of the best. Though one of the most selective and complex U.S. visas to receive, there were over 20,000 new O-1 visas issued in 2014 alone.

What is an O-1 Visa?

An O-1 visa is a non-immigrant visa for individuals who possess extraordinary ability. The field of extraordinary ability for an O-1 visa is divided into two classifications:

O-1A: Individuals with an extraordinary ability in the sciences, education, business, or athletics (not including the arts, motion pictures or television industry)

O-1B: Individuals with an extraordinary ability in the arts or extraordinary achievement in motion picture or television industry

Who qualifies for an O-1 visa?

The O-1 visa requirement is probably the most demanding in the US Immigration Law. Only top of the top professionals with extraordinary ability or achievement qualify.

As a prerequisite for an O-1 visa, the foreign national must have a valid U.S. job offer! O-1 visas are not “self-petitioning” and an O-1 visa holder may only work for the employer that sponsored the visa.

O-1A : A foreign national may qualify for an O-1A visa if he is she has:

  • Received a major, internationally-recognized award, such as a Nobel Prize OR
  • Has achieved at least (3) three of the following:
    • Receipt of nationally or internationally recognized prizes or awards for excellence in the field of endeavor
    • Membership in associations in the field for which classification is sought which require outstanding achievements, as judged by recognized national or international experts in the field
    • Published material in professional or major trade publications, newspapers or other major media about the beneficiary and the beneficiary’s work in the field for which classification is sought
    • Original scientific, scholarly, or business-related contributions of major significance in the field
    • Authorship of scholarly articles in professional journals or other major media in the field for which classification is sought
    • A high salary or other remuneration for services as evidenced by contracts or other reliable evidence
    • Participation on a panel, or individually, as a judge of the work of others in the same or in a field of specialization allied to that field for which classification is sought
    • Employment in a critical or essential capacity for organizations and establishments that have a distinguished reputation.
  • If the above standards do not readily apply to the beneficiary’s occupation, the petitioner may submit comparable evidence in order to establish eligibility.

O-1B: Similarly, and foreign national may qualify for an O-1B visa if he or she has:

  • Received, or been nominated for, significant national or international awards or prizes in the particular field, such as an Academy Award, Emmy, Grammy or Director’s Guild Award OR
  • Has achieved at least (3) three of the following:
    • Performed and will perform services as a lead or starring participant in productions or events which have a distinguished reputation as evidenced by critical reviews, advertisements, publicity releases, publications, contracts or endorsements
    • Achieved national or international recognition for achievements, as shown by critical reviews or other published materials by or about the beneficiary in major newspapers, trade journals, magazines, or other publications
    • Performed and will perform in a lead, starring, or critical role for organizations and establishments that have a distinguished reputation as evidenced by articles in newspapers, trade journals, publications, or testimonials.
    • A record of major commercial or critically acclaimed successes, as shown by such indicators as title, rating or standing in the field, box office receipts, motion picture or television ratings and other occupational achievements reported in trade journals, major newspapers or other publications
    • Received significant recognition for achievements from organizations, critics, government agencies or other recognized experts in the field in which the beneficiary is engaged, with the testimonials clearly indicating the author’s authority, expertise and knowledge of the beneficiary’s achievements
    • A high salary or other substantial remuneration for services in relation to others in the field, as shown by contracts or other reliable evidence
  • If the above standards do not readily apply to the foreign citizen’s occupation in the arts, comparable evidence may be submitted in order to establish eligibility (this exception does not apply to the motion picture or television industry).

How to Apply for an O-1 Visa?

In order to apply for an O-1 visa, the employer must submit Form I-129 to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) along with sufficient documentation to demonstrate the intricate requirements described above.

In addition, the O-1 petition must include an advisory opinion (also called a consultation). An advisory opinion is written opinion from a peer group (including labor organizations), or a person designated by the group with expertise in the beneficiary’s area of ability, that states that the individual warrants the “extraordinary” classification.
If the O-1 petition is for an individual with extraordinary achievement in motion picture or television, the consultation must come from an appropriate labor union and a management organization with expertise in the beneficiary’s area of ability. Waivers maybe applied for if there is no such organization or if the individual already has an advisory opinion issued within the past 2 years!

The application must also contain a contract between the employer and prospective foreign employee as well as an itinerary detailing the nature and dates of the events or activities during the O-1 period. As a practical matter, an employer that sponsors the foreign national should have some expertise in that field. Information about the employer, including some financial information, will also be included.

O-1 visa petitions may utilize the Premium Processing service- meaning a decision can be made within 15 days! Upon approval, the O-1 beneficiary may receive his or her visa at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate or may seek a Change of Status within the U.S.

How long is an O-1 visa valid?

USCIS will issue an O-1 visa for an initial period of up to 3 years. After 3 years, the  O-1 period may be extended in 1 year increments so long as it is demonstrated that the foreign national’s continued presence is still required to complete the event or activity for which they were originally admitted. O-1 visa holders may also seek a change of employment if they change employers.

Can an O-1 lead to a Green Card?

In many cases, yes. The O-1 visa is classified as “dual intent,” which means that the O-1 visa holder may also seek permanent residency (Green Card) without having to satisfy issues of preconceived intent. Additionally, some persons who qualify for an O-1 visa may choose to self-petition for a Green Card after they have gained more experience and ability while in the U.S. Other individuals who qualify for an O-1 visa may choose to bypass the non-immigrant visa stage altogether and apply directly for an Green Card through the EB-1A visa. For more information on this type of Green Card, please visit our EB-1Page.

What options are there for supporting Personal and Family Members of O-1 visa holders?

Assistants and other individuals that may accompany an O-1 visa holder may apply for an O-2 Visa to assist in a specific event or performance.

For an O-1A, the O-2’s assistance must be an “integral part” of the O-1A’s activity. For an O-1B, the O-2’s assistance must be “essential” to the completion of the O-1B’s production. The O-2 worker has critical skills and experience with the O-1 that cannot be readily performed by a U.S. worker and which are essential to the successful performance of the O-1.

An O-2 visa must be petitioned for in conjunction with the services of the O-1 artistic or athletic alien.

Spouses and children (under age 21) of O-1’s and O-2’s may petition to receive an O-3 Visa. O-3 holders may not work in the United States but they may engage in full or part time study.

How can ilexlaw, pllc help?

Many O-1 visa holders are famous or notorious, such as the Alexander Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals and Justin Bieber. Everyone has heard of them, including USCIS officers. They certainly achieved international fame and have extraordinary abilities in their fields. However, most visa applicants in such narrow fields as neuroscience or macroeconomics are not known by the public. All O-1 visa petitions must be carefully prepared and analyzed. Our immigration law firm prepared and got approved a great number of O-1 visas in almost every field.

The attorneys at ilexlaw, pllc analyze and organize every case with scrutiny and attention to detail. We guide our clients through each step of the O-1 application and prepare all O-1 petitions with the benefit of our considerable experience. If you or your employee think you may qualify for an O-1 visa, please contact ilexlaw, pllc for your free consultation.