O-1 Visas for Extraordinary Ability Individuals

What is an O-Visa?

The O-1 nonimmigrant visa is for individuals who possess extraordinary ability in the sciences, arts, education, business, or athletics, or who have a demonstrated record of extraordinary achievement in the motion picture or television industry. The United States Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS) determines whether a professional is eligible for an O-1 visa, but they do not limit the number of visas that can be given annually. Since the O-1 visa is employer-specific, an applicant must prove they have been offered a job first. This also means that for the duration of their stay, the individual can only work with the employer(s) who have filed the proper petition paperwork on their behalf—multiple jobs are permitted, but each requires a separate petition. In addition to O-1 visas, USCIS offers O-2 and O-3 visas.

  • 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 the motion picture or television industry
  • O-2: individuals who will accompany an O-1, artist or athlete, 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
  • O-3: individuals who are the spouse or children of O-1’s and O-2’s

Who is Eligible for an O-1 Visa?

To qualify for an O-1 visa, the beneficiary must demonstrate nationally or internationally acclaimed ability in their industry—a level of expertise that indicates that they are part of a small percentage of individuals at the top of their field. Extraordinary ability in the field of science, business, education, or athletics means exhibiting a high level of achievement as evidenced by a degree of skill and recognition substantially above their peers—they are prominent, leading, or well-known in the community. As for the show business industry, the beneficiary must demonstrate outstanding, leading, or notable achievements in movies and television.

O-1 Application Process

An O-1 applicant must file Form I-129 with the USCIS office within one year before they begin their employment. To ensure expediency, Form I-129 should be filed at least 90 days before the date of employment.

What to Prepare

O-1 visa requirements state that each nonimmigrant worker must submit all relevant evidence, consultations, contracts, and itineraries pertaining to the proposed trip and employment opportunity.

O-1A Visa

For an O-1A visa petition, the beneficiary must provide 3 pieces of evidence of their skill in the form of the following:

  • A nationally or internationally recognized award or prize
  • Membership in associations in their field that require achievements to be judged by credible experts
  • Published material about the beneficiary—or their work—in a professional or major publication
  • Documentation of original scientific, scholarly, or business-related contributions to their field
  • Authorship of scholarly articles in professional journals or other major media in the field
  • A high salary and job descriptions or contracts that prove excellence in the field
  • Participation on a panel, or individually, as a judge of the work of others in the same field
  • Employment at organizations and establishments with distinguished reputations
  • Letters and affidavits from prominent colleagues who can confirm the beneficiary’s contributions to the field

O-1B Visa

Beneficiaries in the motion picture and television industry must provide 3 pieces of evidence of their achievements in the form of:

  • A nomination or receipt of a significant national or international award or prize in their particular field
  • Documentation of performance or future performance as a lead or starring participant in distinguished productions or events as evidenced by advertisements, reviews, contracts, or endorsements
  • National or international recognition for achievements as evidenced in major magazines, newspapers, trade journals, or other publications
  • Major commercial successes as evidenced by ratings, titles, or major publications
  • Significant recognition for achievements from organizations, critics, agencies, or other recognized experts in the beneficiary’s field
  • A high salary and job descriptions or contracts that prove excellence in the field

Who is Eligible for an O-2 Visa?

In order to qualify for an O-2 visa, an individual must petition with USCIS, in conjunction with an O-1 applicant. Like the O-1, the O-2 nonimmigrant worker must file Form I-129 with the USCIS office within one year before the O-1 begins employment. To ensure expediency, it is recommended that Form I-129 be filed at least 90 days before the date of employment.

O-2 Application Process

The O-2 visa application process is similar to that of the O-1, but it requires additional documentation that proves the O-2 nonimmigrant worker is skilled in supporting the extraordinary ability of the O-1. The evidence must demonstrate the critical skills, experience, and essentiality of the O-2 to the O-1’s work. For example, with regards to a motion picture, the O-2 beneficiary must prove that their continued participation is essential to the completion of the production.

Who is Eligible for an O-3 Visa?

The O-3 nonimmigrant visa is for immediate family only. Spouses and children can accompany O-1 and O-2 visa recipients for the duration of their stay and are subject to the same limitations and regulations as the applicant. O-3 applicants are not eligible for employment in the United States, but they may enroll in full or part-time education.

Taking the Next Step

It takes USCIS 3-4 months to process I-129 petitions, which is relatively short for visa approvals, but by paying an additional USCIS Premium Processing fee you can secure a decision within 15 calendar days. Once the I-129 petitions are approved by USCIS, O-1 and O-2 applicants can apply for their visas at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate, if they are currently residing outside the U.S. There will be several forms and fees that each applicant must address before receiving their visas. The O-1 visa approval rate is high—around 70-85%.

Extending an O-Visa

O-visas can be short-term or long-term with a maximum stay of three years with the initial filing—visas may be extended indefinitely, but only in one-year increments. If an O-visa beneficiary wishes to extend their stay, they must file:

  • Another Form I-129 (Petition for Nonimmigrant Worker)
  • A copy of the beneficiary’s Form I-94 (Arrival/Departure Record)
  • A statement from the applicant explaining reasons for the extension
  • Form I-539 and supporting documents for spouse and children (Application to Extend/Change Nonimmigrant Status)

The O-1 visa does not lead directly to a green card—if an O-visa holder wants a green card, they must convert to an immigrant classification.

Interested in an O-1 Visa?

The Batrakova Law Office can help you through the O-visa application process so you can get back to work without skipping a beat. We can also assist with transitioning an O-1 Visa to Green Card status. Send us a message in the contact form below to get started.

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