If you have extraordinary, internationally-recognized ability in film, television, or the arts, then you may qualify for an O-1B visa. The O-1B visa is designed to bring persons with exceptional talent to the United States. It’s an exclusive type of visa for an exclusive class of individual.
The O-1B visa is one of four subcategories of O visas, including all of the following:
O-1A Visa: For individuals with exceptional knowledge in science, business, education, or athletics, including international recognition or prestigious awards.
O-1B Visa: For individuals with exceptional knowledge in film, television, or the arts, including international recognition or prestigious awards in the field.
O-2 Visa: This visa is for the staff and assistants of O-1A or O-1B visa holders, including staff who play an important role in the duties of the O-1A or O-1B visa holder.
O-3 Visa: The O-3 visa is for the spouse and children of O-1A, O-1B, and O-2 visa holders, including the lawful spouse and any unmarried children under age 21.
Keep reading to discover everything you need to know about the O-1B visa application process, processing times, and more.
How Does the O-1B Visa Work?
The O-1B visa allows the applicant to temporarily live and work in the United States. It’s a non-immigrant visa, which means you are expected to return home at the conclusion of your visa. However, the visa can be extended for a one-year period an indefinite number of times.
Like an ordinary work visa, the O-1B visa requires sponsorship from your employer. Your employer must file a petition to United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) proving that you are a valuable member of your industry with exceptional skills. You must be coming to the United States to work on a project in your chosen profession. You cannot be a world famous actor coming to the United States to work in a coffee shop, for example.
There’s no cap on the number of O-1B visas awarded by the United States every year. However, this visa is typically designed for a rare few individuals. If you have won an internationally prestigious award, for example, or contributed significantly to a great work of art, then you may qualify for the O-1B visa.
If you do not qualify for an O-1B visa, then you may be eligible to enter the United States through a separate work visa – like an employer-sponsored H-1B work visa.
O-1B Visa Requirements
O-1B visas are processed on a case-by-case basis. Requirements vary for each individual applicant. However, typical requirements for an O-1B visa include:
- You have held a leading role in an art, film, or TV production
- You have gained national or international recognition from prestigious media outlets
- You were instrumental in the production of a highly-acclaimed art piece, film, or TV show
- You played a significant role in a production that was highly commercially success
- You have been praised by critics and reviewers within your industry in renowned media outlets or journals
- You have received significant compensation for your work in an industry
Generally, if you have won an internationally prestigious award – like an Oscar – then you would easily qualify for an O-1B visa. If you have not won an award of that caliber, however, then you may qualify for an O-1B visa based on the other requirements above. As mentioned above, each applicant is analyzed on a case by case basis, and the requirements for one applicant may be different from the requirements for another.
How to Apply for an O-1B Visa
The O-1B visa application process is straightforward. The first step is to wait for your employer to file a petition. Then, you can proceed with the rest of your application – similar to how any non-immigrant work visa works.
Step 1) Wait for your Employer to File the Petition
Your U.S.-based employer first needs to file form I-129, Petition for Non-Immigrant Worker to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). This petition must be filed a minimum of 45 days before your expected date of work in the United States, but no earlier than 6 months before your expected start date.
When filing the form, your employer will be required to pay a fee of $460. The form also requires your employer to provide documents proving you qualify for an O-1B visa, including documents showing your outstanding work in the industry, your unique skills and experience, and your extraordinary achievements. The petition will also include information about your anticipated work duties upon arrival in the United States.
USCIS will process form I-129 then send back form I-797, Notice of Action, alerting you to whether your application has been approved or denied. If approved, you can proceed with the rest of the O-1B visa application process.
Step 2) File Form DS-160
Form DS-160 is the standard non-immigrant application form for those who seek to temporarily visit or work in the United States. Form DS-160 can be found online on the website of your local U.S. embassy or consulate. Fill out the form accurately, then submit the form and pay the fee. You will receive a confirmation page and barcode that you will need for the future steps.
Step 3) Pay the Visa Fee
The O-1B visa comes with a standard fee of $190 USD. Pay this fee and receive your receipt to continue with the application process.
Step 4) Schedule an Embassy Interview
All O-1B visa applicants between ages 14 and 79 are required to conduct an in-person interview with a U.S. embassy or consulate. Schedule the interview with a U.S. embassy or consulate in your home country, then get ready to prepare your documents.
Step 5) Gather and Submit Required Documents
O-1B applications vary on a case by case basis. As such, the specific documents required for your O-1B application will vary. Typical documents you will need to submit before your O-1B visa application interview include:
- A valid passport
- A photograph that complies with U.S. visa photo requirements
- DS-160 confirmation page and code
- Visa interview confirmation letter
- Receipt confirming you have paid the visa application fee
- Form I-797 (the form you received from USCIS after your employer filed the petition)
- Proof of an offer of employment in the United States, including a letter from your employer or an employment contract
- Proof that you have extraordinary abilities, including documents showcasing organization membership, past awards, or your contributions to significant works of art
- Proof of your relationship to your children or spouse if you are planning to bring them to the United States on an O-3 dependency visa
Step 6) Attend the Interview
Arrive at your local U.S. embassy or consulate to complete the interview. Your fingerprints may be taken prior to the interview. Then, a member of the consular staff will conduct your interview. The purpose of the interview is to verify your application and ensure you are admissible to the United States under the O-1B visa program.
How Long Does It Take to Process My O-1B Visa?
The O-1B visa is unique and processing times vary widely. Generally, O-1B visa processing times can last anywhere from 4 to 12 weeks, although it depends largely on the workload of your local U.S. embassy.
If you want to expedite the O-1B visa process, then you can ask your employer to pay a premium processing fee of $1,225, in which case your O-1B visa can be processed in as little as two weeks.
Can I Get a Green Card with an O-1B Visa?
The O-1B visa allows you to work in the United States temporarily as a person with exceptional ability in a particular field of film, television, or art. However, it is not typically a path to a green card.
Nevertheless, some individuals who qualify for an O-1B visa may also qualify for an EB-1 visa, which is an immigrant visa for individuals with exceptional abilities in a particular field. If you qualify for an EB-1 immigrant visa, then you can begin establishing permanent residence in the United States and receive your green card.
How Long Does My O-1B Visa Last?
The O-1B visa is typically granted for a three year period. Once your visa is nearing its expiry date, you can apply for a visa extension. If approved, your visa will be extended for a one year period. You can extend your visa multiple times. To qualify for an extension, your employer must file form I-129 to USCIS.
You can also switch to a new employer while in the United States. If you get a new job, then your new employer can file form I-129 to permit you to remain in the United States. You are also permitted to work for multiple employers while in the United States, although both employers have to submit separate form I-129 petitions.
Can My Dependents Join Me in the United States Under the O-1B Visa?
The O-1B visa comes with a dependency visa for two groups of family members:
- Your spouse
- Your unmarried children under 21 years of age
If your family member meets either of the above requirements, then he or she can join you in the United States under an O-3 visa, which is a special dependency visa available for O-1A, O-1B, and O-2 visa holders.
If you extend your O-1B visa, then your family members are also eligible to extend their O-3 visas to remain in the United States with you for the duration of your employment.
By following the guide above, you can enjoy a smooth and easy O-1B visa application and approval process.