O-1 Visa: The Complete Guide

Posted by Frank Gogol

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 motivation to be the best you can in your field of expertise, this can be it!

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

Read on to learn more, or check out our video What is the O-1 Visa?

What is the 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.

O-visas are issued fairly quickly and will be granted for the length of time that is necessary for the visa holder to complete the particular event (up to a maximum of three years). There are unlimited extensions available, however, in increments of one year.

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.

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.

Note that the O-1 visa only applies to a person’s individual acclaim and not that of a group. Being a member of a group with extraordinary abilities or achievements will not, by itself, qualify you for the O-1 visa.

Let’s look at what “extraordinary ability” or “extraordinary achievements” mean in the specific fields.

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.

Employment

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.

O-1 Visa Processing Time

In general, the processing time for an O-1 visa is relatively short. The 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.

How to apply for an O-1 Visa

To apply for an O-a visa, you must file a Form I-129 (Petition for Nonimmigrant Workers) with the USCIS.

You are not allowed to file the Form I-129 more than one year before you are actually required to be in the U.S. The USCIS advises that the Form I-129 should be filed at least 45 days before your date of employment, to prevent any unnecessary delays.

The following documentary evidence must be filed with your Form I-129:

1. Your Contract

A copy of your written contract with the person or entity that will employ you must be provided to the USCIS. If your agreement is oral you can provide a summary of the terms. You should then preferably provide e-mails between you and your employer or other evidence which will provide that an actual oral agreement has been concluded. The USCIS wants to see the terms of your agreement so you will have to stipulate what your employer offered you and what exactly you accepted.

2. Itineraries

The USCIS wants to see the nature of the events or activities that you will be engaged in. Plus they want to know the beginning and end dates of such events and activities. You will have to provide a copy of an itinerary of each activity or event, if relevant.

Remember you have to prove that these events or activities are in your field of extraordinary ability.

3. Evidence of your Extraordinary Ability

You need to prove to the USCIS that you have received a major, internationally-recognized award (for example receiving a Nobel Prize or an Oscar) in your particular field. Or, you will have to provide at least three of the below documents, as required by the USCIS. If the listed documents do not apply to you, you can submit comparable evidence to prove your eligibility.

Official evidence required by USCIS if you are applying for an O-1A visa:

  • 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.

[Source: USCIS]

Official evidence required by USCIS if you are applying for an O-1B visa:

  • 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.

[Source: USCIS]

Consultation

This requirement constitutes a document containing a written advisory opinion from a person with expertise in your area of ability or from a peer group (such as a labor organization).

Make sure the documents provided are originals, especially if the document contains a watermark or other distinctive mark. If you don’t submit the original, it might result in processing delays or raise doubts about the authenticity of the document.

If you can prove that an appropriate peer group doesn’t exist then the decision whether to grant the O-1 visa will be based on your evidence provided.

The requirement of a consultation can also be waived if you are in the field of arts and you seek readmission to perform similar services within a 2 year period since the date of your previous consultation. In such a case, you can submit a waiver request and a copy of your previous consultation with the Form I-129.

Extending your O-1 visa

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 which 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.

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including Adjustment of Status, Green Card Renewal, and U.S. Citizenship.

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 O-1 visa to Eb-1 green card that you can take a look at here.

O-1 Visa Approval Rate

The approval rate for O-1 visas are 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 theapproval 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.

Conclusion

The evidentiary material required to apply for an O-1 visa can be quite intricate and can take a fair amount of time to prepare. If you are unsure of how to prove your extraordinary ability or you need advice about your petition, be sure to consult an attorney in this regard. It will be worth your time to do as much preparation work for this as you can before getting started. Getting an O-1 visa can be the first step to a bright future pursuing opportunities in the United States and to further excel in your field of expertise.

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