US O1 Visa – Visa for Persons with Extraordinary Ability or Achievement

Whereas the H-1B visa can be given to any individual who finds a job in the U.S and has an employer willing to sponsor them, other types of U.S work visas have more conditions on the occupations as well as the abilities of the applicants.

One such visa is the group of O visas. O visas have been designed by the U.S to give an advantage to highly educated and qualified people to work in the U.S. They are called people with extraordinary abilities and high educational degrees. The O visas have a mutual benefit, to both the workers and the country that employs them. On one hand, those who want to live and work in the U.S get to provide knowledge and skills and get paid by American standards, all the while U.S companies get highly skilled individuals which bring success to their companies.

There Are Various Types of O Visas, but the Basic Types Are as Follows:

  • O-1 visa: is designed for those who show expert knowledge in science, business, education, athletics, or art, including international recognition for their work
  • O-2 visa: is designed for the personnel and assistants of the O-1 visa holders
  • O-3 visa: is designed for the spouses and children of O-1 and O-2 visa holders

This article will focus on the O-1 visa, its types and requirements, application process, and other details that will be useful to those who are considering applying.

What is the O-1 visa?

The O-1 visa is a U.S nonimmigrant visa targeting those who have extraordinary abilities in fields such as business, science, athletics, art, or education. Besides these fields, those who have been recognized in the film or television industry are also candidates for the O-1 visa.

Additionally, the O-1 visa states that those aiming to apply for this visa must have been recognized in some way for their achievements in their fields, nationally or internationally.

O-1 visas are given on a case by case basis and there is no cap on the number that can be given. They are quite difficult to obtain due to the many requirements. To get the O-1 visa, it is not enough to belong to an organization which promotes higher education and extraordinary qualifications. The U.S Embassy will consider each person individually and their personal achievements, not the achievements of the group or organization.

A key difference between the other work visas in the U.S and the O-1 visa, is that O-1 visa applicants must have a valid proof of their abilities and not just a job offer, such as for example the H-1B visa applicants.

Nevertheless, O-1 visa applicants must have a job offer from an employer in the U.S to initiate the process of application. So a person from another country cannot start the O-1 visa application process, but must demonstrate that an employer in the U.S is willing to hire them. Their purpose of visiting the U.S must be to work in a place of employment which requires their extraordinary abilities. If the duties that the applicant will be doing at their place of work in the U.S are not similar to the person’s extraordinary skills or abilities, then they will not qualify for the visa. Examples of this can be that professors and scholars must be going to the U.S to teach or do research, and highly skilled business consultants must have a place of work in a consultancy firm.

What Are the Types of the O-1 Visa?

Besides having a few types of O type visas, the O-1 visa is also divided into separate visas depending on the occupation or extraordinary abilities of the person applying. The O-1 visa can be in one of the following types:

  • O-1A visa: which is for those who have shown extraordinary abilities in education, business, science, and athletics
  • O-1B visa: which is for those who have shown extraordinary abilities in the film or television industry or in the arts

So depending on your profession, you can either qualify for the O-1A or O-1B visa and you can check by looking into the requirements of each one.

What Are the Requirements for the O-1 Visa?

One difficulty with the O-1 visa process is being able to know whether you have the extraordinary abilities and high educational qualifications that the U.S Embassy requires. Fortunately, the U.S Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) have created a roadmap and a few points in which potential applicants can evaluate themselves to know whether they can apply for the O-1 visa or not.

So how do you demonstrate that you have some sort of extraordinary ability in science, business, education or athletics? Take into consideration whether you have done the following:

  • Received an award such as Pulitzer Prize or an Olympic medal
  • Received any prize for your excellence in any of those fields
  • Published articles or work for your specific field
  • Contributed with original research in any of the above mentioned fields
  • You are a member of a highly distinguished association or organization that requires its members to have high professional achievements
  • Have judged the contribution of others in your field
  • Have been paid a high salary for your skills and contribution

Different from the fields above, if you want to apply and work in the arts field with an O-1 visa, you can do so if you are in any lead or supporting role in creating a piece of art. This can be in fine or visual arts, performing arts, culinary arts and so on. Also, those who support the main act of an art project qualify, such as sound designers, orchestrators, costume designers, stage technicians and so on. To qualify for the O-1 visa as an artist, you will need to fulfill at least one of these conditions:

  • Have won a highly acclaimed award such as a Grammy, Oscar, Emmy, etc.
  • You will be a leading person in a production or event which has been reviewed by critics
  • You have been featured in critics journals, newspapers, or other publications for your great performances
  • You have been part of highly reviewed pieces of production which have high ratings, box office receipts, etc.
  • You have had a high salary for your services in comparison to others in your field

If you have checked these requirements and you meet either one of them, then you must submit proof to your employer. Your employer will have to prove that you have extraordinary abilities by submitting the proof that you gave them access to.

How to Apply for the O-1 Visa?

The application procedure for the O-1 visa is similar to other work visas. The initial step must be taken by the employer. Therefore, you will first have to find a job offer in the U.S. When an employer says that they want to hire you, then you can start the application process.

Have Your Petition Approved

Your employer will have to file a petition to USCIS on your behalf so that you can start working. This is done by sending in Form I-129, Petition for Nonimmigrant Workers to USCIS together with proof that you fulfill the requirements for the O-1 visa. These can be certificates, newspaper clippings of your articles, testimonials by a highly acclaimed organization, or other proof that you have the extraordinary abilities that you claim. For example, if you are claiming to have made scientific contributions to your field, you must demonstrate where they were mentioned, have proof from your supervisor or colleagues, or even have the journal where your research was published sent to USCIS.

The petition must be sent to USCIS at least 45 days before you are scheduled to start working and costs $460 which your employer must pay. USCIS will review the petition, they will either deny it or approve it by issuing Form I-797, Notice of Action. If you are approved, then your employer has completed their part and now you as the employee will have to start your application.

File Form DS-160

Form DS-160 or Online Nonimmigrant Visa Application is the form that all applicants for U.S nonimmigrant visas fill. The application will require you to put your information and your purpose of the visit there. Depending on the type of visa, it will ask you different questions. In the end, when you have finished the form, you will get a confirmation code that you will use later on in the application process.

Pay the Visa Fee

The O-1 visa cost for the application is $190. You must pay this fee to continue with your visa application. Besides the application fee, you might also have to pay other fees depending on your country of residence. After you have paid all the necessary fees, make sure you get the receipts as you will need proof that you have paid them.

Schedule an Interview

All applicants older than 13 and younger than 80 years old must go through an interview with the U.S Embassy when they apply for a visa. That is why you must schedule your interview with an official. Try to schedule your interview as early as possible, since U.S Embassies might have a high workload and you could end up waiting a long time to complete the process. When you schedule your interview, you will get an interview confirmation letter which you need to bring with you to the Embassy.

Gather Necessary Documents

Compile a file with the necessary documents to prove your case. This file includes:

  • Your valid passport
  • A photograph according to the Photo Requirements
  • The DS-160 confirmation code
  • The visa interview letter
  • The receipts that you have paid all fees
  • Proof that you have a job in the U.S (such as a letter from your employer, a contract, etc )
  • Proof that you have extraordinary abilities (this should be the same proof that your employer has handed in to USCIS)
  • If you are planning to bring your family, you must submit proof of your relationship to them (marriage certificate for your spouse and birth certificates for your children).

Attend Your Interview

After you have compiled your file, you must attend your interview at the scheduled date. Try to be on time and answer any questions that the U.S Embassy official asks you. Your interview will have a great impact on your application so be truthful.

How Long Does It Take to Process the O-1 Visa?

After you have conducted your interview, you will have to wait for the visa to be processed. The usual O-1 visa processing time is two to three months. However, if you want to shorten this time, you can pay an additional $1,225 for premium processing. With premium processing, your visa will be processed within 15 days. After the visa has been processed, you will be notified whether you were approved or denied.

How Long Is the O-1 Visa Valid?

The initial time that your O-1 visa will be approved for is 3 years. If after 3 years, you want to extend your visa, your employer must submit proof as to why you need to continue providing your services. They will need to file a new Form I-129. Each extension from USCIS is for 1 year increments, but there is no limit to how many times you can apply for extensions.

If you want to change your employers, the new employer must file a new petition, and if you want to work for more than one employer at the same time, all employers must file petitions with USCIS.

Can I Get a Green Card With an O-1 Visa?

Many candidates who have an O-1 visa wonder whether they can go from an O-1 visa to a Green Card. The answer is yes. Since you have demonstrated that you have extraordinary abilities, you can file for the Green Card for Extraordinary Abilities or EB-1. However, to apply for this Green Card, you will need much more proof of your abilities and achievements than you submitted for the O-1 visa. That is why it is highly important that you can prove to the U.S government that you have these abilities.

Can I Bring My Dependents with an O-1 Visa?

Those who have a valid O-1 visa can bring their dependents with them to the U.S. Dependents that qualify are the spouse and unmarried children under 21 years old. They can stay in the U.S with a valid O-3 visa. The O-3 visa is given to them for the same length as your O-1 visa, and if you extend the visa or get a Green Card, the benefits are given to your dependents too. O-3 visa holders are allowed to study in the U.S, but they are not allowed to work.