O-1 Visa Guide

Updated on August 14, 2023
At a Glance: The O-1 visa is a temporary work visa for individuals with extraordinary abilities in fields like science, arts, education, business, and athletics. It is also available for those with exceptional achievements in the TV or film industry. The visa requires a job offer from a U.S. employer, and there are different categories based on the field of expertise. To apply, the employer must submit Form I-129, and the applicant must file Form DS-160, pay fees, schedule an interview, and provide supporting documents. The processing time is typically 2-3 months but can be expedited with a premium processing service. The approval rate is high, and extensions can be requested. It differs from the EB-1 green card, which grants permanent residency. Converting from an O-1 visa to an EB-1 green card requires filing additional forms and meeting stricter criteria.

The United States is full of opportunities, especially for those who excel at what they do. If you are an individual who has proven extraordinary abilities in the science, arts, television, business, or athletics fields, you can get an O-1 visa to work or engage in a specific activity related to your field in the United States. If you ever needed the motivation to be the best you can be in your field of expertise, this can be it!

Below we set out details about the O-1 visa and how to apply.

What Is an O-1 Visa?

The O-1 visa is a non-immigrant visa designed for individuals who have extraordinary abilities in one of the following categories:

  • Science
  • Arts
  • Education
  • Business
  • Athletics

It is also available to persons who have a record of extraordinary achievements in the television or motion picture industry. These persons must have been recognized nationally or internationally for those achievements (winning an Oscar comes to mind).

The purpose of the O-1 visa is a short-term work visa. Consequently, a requirement for the O-1 visa is a job offer from a U.S employer. O-1 visa holders can work for their sponsor, but if they want to change jobs they will need to re-apply for a new O-1 visa.

Different types of O-1 Visas

There are different categories of the O-visa, depending on what activity or function you will be fulfilling in the U.S.

Below is a short summary.

O1-A Visa

The O-1A category is for those persons who have extraordinary abilities in science, education, business, or athletics. This category does not include the arts, motion pictures, or television industries.

O1-B Visa

The O-1B category is for those persons who have extraordinary abilities in the arts or who have extraordinary achievements in the motion picture or television industry.

O-3 Visa

The O-3 visa is designed for the spouse or children of the O-1 visa holder. The O-1 visa holder’s spouse and children can accompany the O-1 visa holder to the U.S on an O-3 visa. They may, however, not accept employment in the United States.

Check out our complete guide to the O3 visa to learn more.

If you need someone to accompany you to the United States who is an “integral part” of your activity to be completed in the U.S (such as a coach) or whose assistance is essential in the completion of your production, such persons can apply for an O-2 visa.

Qualifications and Eligibility

The main qualification criteria for an O-1 visa is proven extraordinary ability in one of the specified fields. Extraordinary ability is demonstrated by sustained national or international acclaim in your specific field or a record of extraordinary achievement.

Extraordinary Ability in Science, Education, Business, or Athletics

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) indicates that extraordinary abilities in these fields mean that you are one of the small percentages of individuals who have risen to the very top of the field. This is usually indicated by sustained national or international acclaim and can be demonstrated by the receipt of a major internationally recognized award (like an Olympic medal).

Extraordinary Ability in Arts, Motion Picture or Television Field

The USCIS describes extraordinary ability in arts as a distinction or a high level of achievement evidenced by a degree of skill and recognition which is substantially above what is ordinarily encountered. This has to be to the extent that the person is renowned, leading, and well known in the field of arts.

If you are considering applying for your O-1 visa in this category, make sure that your work falls within the USCIS’ definition of art.

To qualify for the O-1 visa, you have to be coming to the U.S to perform in your area of extraordinary ability.

To prove your recognition in the field of art, you will need to provide documentation showing that you have been nominated for (or received) significant national or international awards or prizes in your particular field. Examples such as winning an Oscar, Emmy or Grammy is appropriate. As an alternative, you can provide the documentation listed below proving your eligibility in this regard.


In addition to possessing extraordinary ability or achievements, you must be traveling to the United States to work or perform at an event (or series of events) related to your extraordinary ability. An “event” is, however, interpreted liberally for those fields outside of athletics and arts, and can include a research project for example.

Essentially you need an employer to sponsor your O-1 visa and to file the petition on your behalf.

If you already have an O-1 visa and you want to change employers, your new employer will also have to file a Form I-129. If there is a big change to the terms and conditions of your employment or your eligibility, you must file an amended petition on Form I-129 with the Service Centre where your original petition was filed.

How to Apply for an O-1 Visa

The steps you and your employer must take when applying for an O1 visa are:

  1. Submit Your Petition
  2. File Form DS-160
  3. Pay the O1 Visa Fee
  4. Schedule an Interview
  5. Attend the Interview

These steps are discussed in more detail below.

1. Submit Your Petition

To begin the process your employer in the United States must complete and file Form I-129and provide the necessary documents. The application fee is $460.

They can submit the application to one of the USCIS Service Centers, in California, Nebraska, Vermont, or Texas at least 45 days before the start date of your employment, but no earlier than 1 year.

2. File Form DS-160

If your petition is approved, you must next file Form DS-160, which can be found on the Consular Electronic Application Center website.

3. Pay the O1 Visa Fee

Since the O-1 visa is petition-based, the application fee is $190 and can be paid online or through a bank. You will need your receipt for the visa appointment, so save it.

4. Schedule an Interview

After you complete the Form DS-160, you have to schedule an appointment at the US Embassy. You can do this online, through ustraveldocs.com if you’re applying from Asia, or ais.usvisa-info.com if you are applying from elsewhere.

For more info to help you prepare, check out our guide to the O1 visa interview.

5. Collect Your Documents

When applying for an O1 visa, you will need to collect the following documents:

  • A written consultation from someone with expertise in your field.
  • A copy of the written work contract.
  • A document explaining the activities and events you will participate in.
  • Proof of your extraordinary abilities or achievements.

Additionally, when you appear at the American Embassy for your appointment and interview, you should have the following documents with you:

  • A valid passport.
  • The DS-160 form confirmation page
  • The interview appointment letter
  • A picture of yourself that meets Department of State requirements
  • The I-797 Approval Notice from USCIS
  • Poof you have paid the Machine Readable Visa (MRC) fee

6. Attend the Interview

On the date of your appointment, you have to hand in your documents as well as attend an interview with the visa officer. They will ask you questions about your qualifications, how long you have worked in your field, why it is necessary to go to the US to further your career and other questions along these lines. The interview is one of the most important aspects of your visa application.

After it is over, you will have to wait for the visa to be processed, and you will soon hear about a decision.

O-1 Visa Processing Time

In general, the processing time for an O-1 visa is relatively short. Form I-129 can take between 2-3 months to process, depending on which service center processes your petition.

The USCIS has an optional premium processing service where you pay an additional fee for your petition to be expedited. The fee is $1,225 but your processing time will be shortened to 15 calendar days.

O-1 Visa Approval Rate

The approval rate for O-1 visas is quite high and generally between 80% and 95%, depending on the service center.

If you are worried about your O-1 visa approval, it is advisable that you consult an attorney that specializes in this field because the approval rate is generally higher for O-1 petitions if it is prepared with the help of an attorney. Alternatively, we also recommend you read this resource on improving visa approval chances.

O-1 Visa Extension

If you want to apply for your stay in the U.S under the O-1 visa to be extended in order to complete the same activity or event, the following documentation can be filed at the USCIS:

  • Form I-129 (Petition for Nonimmigrant Workers)
  • A copy of your Form I-94 (Arrival/Departure Record)
  • A statement from your employer/sponsor (referred to as the petitioner) explaining the reason for the extension.

This last statement should preferably describe the event or activity that was the basis of the initial approval and confirm that you need the extension in order to continue or complete the same activity or event.

O-1 Visa vs. EB-1 Green Card

The EB-1 green card is a green card for foreign nationals with extraordinary abilities (or expertise and recognized talent in a specialized field). The Eb-1 is specifically for workers with extraordinary achievements in the fields of business, education, science, and art.

The EB-1 green card is, therefore, an employment-based green card and you require a job offer from an employer in the U.S in order to obtain it. There is the option to “self-petition” if your achievements are remarkable enough, which means you won’t need an employer to sponsor you. But such achievements would need to be close to winning a Nobel Prize.

To be eligible to receive an EB-1 green card, you must prove at least three years of relevant work history in your field.

If you receive an EB-1 green card, you get permanent residency in the United States.

The main difference between the EB-1 green card and the O-1 visa is the duration that you are allowed to stay in the U.S. The EB-1 green card grants permanent residency while the O-1 visa is merely a temporary visa.

For more detailed information on the differences between the O-1 visa and the Eb-1 green card, visit this page.

O-1 Visa to Green Card

If you have an O-1 visa, it does not mean that you will automatically be able to be approved for an EB-1 visa. There are many different acceptance guidelines that apply. Although the eligibility criteria are or can be similar, they are not interchangeable.

Most EB-1 green card holders have considerable proof that they are at the top of their field or chosen profession. The requirements and eligibility criteria for an EB-1 green card is more intensive and strict than those for the O-1 visa. Interestingly, the standard for an EB-1 visa is the same for all fields, unlike the O-1 visa where it can differ.

In order to change from an O-1 visa to an EB-1 visa, you have to file a Form I-140 (Immigration Petition for Alien Workers) with the USCIS. If your Form I-140 is approved, you can remain in the United States and file a Form I-485 (Adjustment of Status) with the USCIS or you can process your green card application at a U.S consular office in your home country.

There are important things you must keep in mind when considering converting from an O-1 visa to Eb-1 green card that you can take a look at here.

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Frank Gogol

I’m a firm believer that information is the key to financial freedom. On the Stilt Blog, I write about the complex topics — like finance, immigration, and technology — to help immigrants make the most of their lives in the U.S. Our content and brand have been featured in Forbes, TechCrunch, VentureBeat, and more.