The O-1A visa is a special type of visa for special types of visitors to the United States. If you have exceptional ability in business, athletics, education, or science, then you may qualify for an O-1A visa.
The O-1A visa is a non-immigrant visa that allows you to temporarily live and work in the United States. Generally, this visa is only available to those with exceptional, internationally-recognized talent in their particular field. If you have extraordinary ability in business, athletics, education, or science, then you may qualify for an O-1A visa.
The O-1 visa is available to individuals with exceptional abilities in certain fields. There are two subcategories under the O-1 visa including the O-1A and the O-1B visa. In addition, the broader O visa category includes the O-2 visa and the O-3 visa. Here’s how the O visas break down:
O-1A Visa: This visa is for individuals with extraordinary ability in fields like business, athletics, education, and science.
O-1B Visa: This visa is for individuals with extraordinary ability in fields like arts, television, and film.
O-2 Visa: This visa is for the assistants and staff accompanying an O-1A or O-1B visa holder.
O-3 Visa: This visa for the family, including the spouse and children, of an O-1A, O-1B, or O-2 visa holder.
Keep reading to discover everything you need to know about the O-1A visa application process, visa processing times, requirements, and more.
How Does the O-1A Visa Work?
The United States government has designed the O-1A visa program to bring individuals with exceptional abilities to the United States to work. If you have exceptional and unique abilities in business, education, science, and athletics, then you may be eligible to work in the United States under an O-1A visa.
One of the first requirements of the O-1A visa is to have a job offer in the United States. The O-1A visa is an employer-sponsored visa. Your employer needs to file a petition to bring you to the United States.
The term “extraordinary ability” can be interpreted in different ways. Generally, if you are an internationally-recognized member of your field who has received national and international awards, then you may qualify for an O-1A visa. The more awards from prestigious organizations you have, the better chance you have of O-1A visa approval. Of course, winning an award is not a requirement for the O-1A visa, although it’s best if you have been internationally recognized in some way.
Typically, just being a member of a notable organization and contributing to your field is not enough to qualify for an O-1A visa. You cannot just be a filmmaker, for example; you must be a filmmaker who has won an Oscar or a similarly prestigious award. You cannot just be a runner; you must be a runner who has won an Olympic medal.
Few people qualify for the O-1A visa. That’s partly the point of the O-1A visa program: it’s designed to bring those with an extraordinary ability to the United States. If you do not qualify for an O-1A visa, then you may qualify for an ordinary work visa – like an employer-sponsored H-1B visa.
Another important requirement of the O-1A visa is that your job in the United States must correspond directly to your abilities. You cannot be an award-winning filmmaker applying to work at a restaurant as a server, for example. Your position in the United States must be linked to your abilities in the particular field.
O-1A Visa Requirements
The O-1A visa comes with strict requirements. As mentioned above, this is an exclusive visa for an exclusive type of applicant. Generally, O-1A visa applicants must meet the following requirements:
- Received a prestigious award from an internationally-recognized organization, like a Pulitzer Prize or an Olympic medal
- Received any national or international award recognizing your excellence in an applicable field
- Published internationally-recognized articles or work in a specific field
- Contributed to an applicable field with original, internationally-recognized research
- Be a member of a highly-distinguished association or organization that requires members to have prestigious achievements, awards, or accomplishments
- Have judged the contributions of others in your field at a high level
- Have received a high salary for your skills, abilities, and contributions
You do not necessarily need to meet all of the above requirements to qualify for an O-1A visa. The specific requirements vary from applicant to applicant, depending on your field. However, the requirements above are a sample of some of the things expected from an O-1A visa applicant.
Generally, if you have won an award as prestigious as an Olympic medal, a Pulitzer Prize, an Oscar, or something similar, then you qualify for an O-1A visa quite easily. If you have not won such an award, then you must typically meet three of the other listed requirements.
How to Apply for an O-1A Visa
The O-1A visa application process begins with a petition from your employer. Your employer must file a petition explaining the nature of your job in the United States along with relevant details of that job. Then, you move through the traditional visa application process before finally having your visa approved or denied by your local U.S. embassy.
Step 1) Wait for your Employer to File a Petition
The O-1A visa is designed specifically for exceptional individuals seeking employment in the United States. The first step is to wait for your employer to file a petition to United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Your employer will file form I-129, Petition for Non-Immigrant Worker. The form asks details about your position and the responsibilities of the job.
The petition must be submitted no earlier than six months before your anticipated start date in the United States. It must also be filed at least 45 days before your anticipated start date.
Your employer will pay a form filing fee of $460. USCIS will process the form, then send Form I-797, Notice of Action, if your application is approved. Once you have received the form, you can proceed with the rest of the O-1A visa application process.
Step 2) File Form DS-160
Most non-immigrant visa applications in the United States require you to fill out form DS-160. This form will ask basic questions about your trip to the United States as well as your biographical details. Answer accurately and honestly to the best of your abilities. Once you have completed the form, you will be required to pay a fee and then receive your Form DS-160 confirmation page.
Step 3) Pay the Visa Fee
The application fee for the O-1A visa is $190. This visa fee must be paid to move forward with the rest of your application process. Keep the receipt once your payment has been confirmed.
Step 4) Schedule your Visa Interview
All O-1A visa applicants between ages 14 and 79 must attend an in-person interview at a U.S. embassy or consulate. During the interview, a member of the embassy staff will verify the information on your application and make the final decision to approve or deny your O-1A visa. Schedule the interview with your local U.S. embassy or consulate.
Step 5) Gather Required Documents
You will be required to gather and submit certain documents prior to your O-1A visa interview. Required documents vary for each O-1A visa applicant. However, standard required documents include all of the following:
- Valid passport
- A photograph that complies with U.S. visa photo requirements
- DS-160 confirmation code
- Visa interview letter
- Receipts proving you have paid all of your fees
- Form I-797
Proof you have a job offer in the United States, including a letter from your employer or an employment contract describing your duties and terms of employment
Proof that you have extraordinary ability in a particular field, including proof of awards or proof of membership in a prestigious organization (your employer will have also provided this information in the initial form I-129 filed to USCIS)
If you are planning to bring dependents to the United States under an O-3 visa, then you may also be required to provide proof of their relationship to you, including a birth certificate or marriage certificate
Step 6) Attend your Interview
The final step is to attend your interview at your local U.S. embassy or consulate. You may have your fingerprints taken prior to your interview. A member of the embassy or consular staff will verify the information on your application to ensure you are eligible for entry into the United States. Upon completion of the interview, your O-1A visa application will move to the final stages of approval or denial.
How Long Does It Take to Process the O-1A Visa?
The O-1A visa is one of the more unique visas available through the United States government. Processing times vary widely depending on the applicant and the workload of your local U.S. embassy. Generally, you can expect to wait anywhere from 4 to 12 weeks to process your O-1A visa from beginning to end.
How Long Does My O-1A Visa Last?
The O-1A visa is typically granted for a three year period. You are permitted to work in the United States for this three year period, traveling in and out of the country as many times as you need.
If your three year visa is nearing the expiry date and you wish to continue working in the United States, then your employer can file a petition to USCIS to extend your visa. Your employer files form I-129 to extend your stay for one year. There is no limit to the number of extensions you can make with an O-1A visa, although the maximum extension period is one year.
You are permitted to switch employers while in the United States on an O-1A visa. However, if you switch employers, your new employer must file form I-129 to USCIS.
Can I Get a Green Card with an O-1A Visa?
The O-1A visa is a non-immigrant visa that allows you to work in the United States temporarily. Generally, the O-1A visa is not a path to a green card or permanent residence.
However, certain individuals who qualify for an O-1A visa may also qualify for an EB-1 visa, which is an immigrant visa that allows you to establish lawful permanent residence in the United States. The main requirement for an EB-1 visa is proving that you have exceptional ability in your particular field.
Can My Dependents Join Me in the United States on an O-1A Visa?
The O-1A visa allows you to bring certain dependents with you to the United States. You can bring the following family members to the United States for the duration of your O-1A visa:
- Your spouse
- Your unmarried children under 21 years of age
If your family qualifies for either of the above categories, then they can apply for an O-3 visa, which is a special dependency visa for the family of O-1A, O-1B, and O-2 visa holders.
If your O-1A visa is extended, then your family can also request an extension of their own O-3 dependency visa.
Your dependents cannot work in the United States under an O-3 dependency visa. However, they are permitted to enroll in full-time or part-time studies.
By following the guide above, you can make the O-1A visa application process as smooth and easy as possible.