O-1 Visa: Visas for Extraordinary Ability

What is an O-1 Visa?

An O-1 visa is a type of nonimmigrant visa issued by the United States to individuals with 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. It allows the individual to stay and work in the US for a specific period, typically up to three years, with the possibility of an extension.

Who qualifies for an O-1 Visa?

An individual qualifies for an O-1 visa if they can demonstrate extraordinary ability in the sciences, arts, education, business, or athletics, or have a demonstrated record of extraordinary achievement in the motion picture or television industry. This means that the individual must have a level of expertise indicating that they are one of a small percentage who has risen to the very top of their field of endeavor.

This can be demonstrated through a combination of the following criteria:

  • National or international awards or prizes for excellence in the field
  • Membership in associations in the field which require outstanding achievements of their members
  • Published material about the individual in professional or major trade publications or other major media
  • Participation as a judge of the work of others in the same or an allied field
  • Original scientific, scholarly, artistic, athletic, or business-related contributions of major significance in the field
  • Authorship of scholarly articles in professional or major trade publications or other major media
  • A high salary or other remuneration for services in relation to others in the field.

It is important to note that an O-1 visa is not for unskilled or casual labor and the position offered must require the services of an individual with extraordinary ability in the field.

How long is an O-1 visa good for?

An O-1 visa is typically issued for a specific period, usually up to three years, with the possibility of extension n. The initial period of stay will be based on the specific needs of the individual’s employment, and the visa can be extended in one-year increments if the individual continues to qualify for O-1 status. The maximum duration of stay in the U.S. is an aggregate of five years, after that the individual would need to leave the U.S. for at least one year before being eligible to apply for another O-1 visa.

How do you apply for an O-1 visa?

To apply for an O-1 visa, the following steps must be taken:

  1. The employer must first file Form I-129, Petition for Nonimmigrant Worker, with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). The form must be accompanied by evidence of the individual’s extraordinary ability, such as awards, publications, and other documentation as described above.
  2. Once Form I-129 is approved, the individual can apply for the O-1 visa at a U.S. consulate or embassy in their home country. They will need to submit the following documents:
    • A valid passport
    • A completed Form DS-160, Online Nonimmigrant Visa Application
    • Two recent 2×2 inches photographs in the required format
    • A fee payment
    • Evidence of the individual’s extraordinary ability and that of the employer, as described in the I-129 petition.
  3.  After the visa application is submitted, the individual will be called in for an interview at the U.S. consulate or embassy. They may also need to provide additional information or documentation.
  4. If the visa application is approved, the individual will receive the O-1 visa in their passport. They can then use this visa to travel to the United States and begin their employment.
    It’s important to note that the O-1 visa process can take several months to complete, so it’s important to plan and apply well in advance of the desired start date. Additionally, the O-1 visa process is complex and specific requirements may vary from case to case. It’s advisable to consult with an experienced immigration attorney for guidance and assistance in the O-1 visa application process.

What evidence do I submit for an O-1 visa?

When applying for an O-1 visa, you will need to submit evidence of your extraordinary ability in your field of endeavor. This evidence will be used to demonstrate that you are one of a small percentage of individuals who have risen to the very top of your field. The evidence you need to submit will depend on your field and the criteria you use to demonstrate your extraordinary ability. But generally, you should be able to demonstrate your extraordinary ability by providing a combination of the following types of evidence:

  • National or international awards or prizes for excellence in the field
  • Membership in associations in the field that require outstanding achievements of their members
  • Published material about the individual in professional or major trade publications or other major media
  • Participation as a judge of the work of others in the same or an allied field
  • Original scientific, scholarly, artistic, athletic, or business-related contributions of major significance in the field
  • Authorship of scholarly articles in professional or major trade publications or other major media
  • A high salary or other remuneration for services in relation to others in the field
  • Itinerary of the event/engagement
  • Letters from experts in the field attesting to the individual’s qualifications and achievements.
  • Testimonials from current or former employers attesting to the individual’s qualifications and achievements.

It’s important to note that the evidence submitted should be recent and relevant to the current application and should be accompanied by a detailed advisory opinion letter from an appropriate expert in the field, explaining the nature of the individual’s abilities and achievements and why they are considered extraordinary.

Can my spouse and children work and live in the U.S. if I get an O-1 visa?

If you are the holder of an O-1 visa, your spouse and children are eligible to apply for O-3 dependent visas, which will allow them to live in the U.S. with you. However, O-3 visa holders are not authorized to work in the U.S. If your spouse or children wish to work in the U.S., they will need to apply for a separate work visa.

Is an O-1 visa better than an H-1B visa?

The O-1 visa and H-1B visa are both intended for highly skilled foreign workers, but they have some key differences. The O-1 visa is for individuals with extraordinary ability or achievement in their field, whereas the H-1B visa is for individuals who possess a bachelor’s degree or higher in a specific field and are coming to the U.S. to perform services in a specialty occupation.

One of the main advantages of the O-1 visa is that it does not have an annual cap, whereas the H-1B visa has an annual cap of 85,000 visas. Additionally, the O-1 visa application process is generally considered to be less bureaucratic, allowing for faster processing times than the H-1B visa.

Another advantage is that O-1 visa holders can be self-employed and are not tied to a specific employer, unlike H-1B visa holders.

It’s also worth noting that O-1 visa application process has more stringent requirements, the evidence that the applicant has to provide is more extensive and it’s also more expensive.

Ultimately, whether the O-1 or H-1B visa is better for a particular individual will depend on their specific circumstances and qualifications. It’s best to consult with a immigration lawyer to determine which option is more appropriate for you.

Can I get a green card through an O-1 visa?

An O-1 visa is a non-immigrant visa for individuals with extraordinary ability in the sciences, arts, education, business, or athletics. O-1 visa holders are not eligible to apply for a green card while in the U.S. However, they may be able to apply for a green card through a separate process, such as through an employer sponsorship or through the EB-1 Extraordinary Ability category. It’s best to consult with an immigration lawyer to understand your options.

There are also other options to obtain a green card through your employment such in the EB-2 and EB-3 categories.

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