O visas are a group of non-immigrant visas that allow individuals with extraordinary abilities, skills, or education to work in the United States. The visas include those with exceptional ability in business, science, athletics, or art, for example.
In many cases, these individuals need personnel to assist them as they work in the United States. If you are the personnel of an O-1 visa holder, then you may qualify for the O-2 visa.
The O-2 visa is one of three visa subcategories available under the O visa category:
O-1 Visa: This visa is for those who have expert knowledge in science, business, education, athletics, or arts. The individual must have an internationally-recognized ability in their field.
O-2 Visa: The O-2 visa is for the personnel and assistants of the O-1 visa holder. If you provide valuable assistance to the O-1 visa holder without which the O-1 visa holder would not be able to perform, then you may qualify for the O-2 visa.
O-3 Visa: The O-3 visa is for the spouse and children of O-1 and O-2 visa holders.
Keep reading to discover everything you need to know about the O-2 visa application process – including whether or not you or your personnel qualify for the O-2 visa.
How Does the O-2 Visa Work?
The O-2 visa is a specific visa designed to help O-1 visa holders perform their jobs within the United States. The United States government recognizes that certain people with exceptional skills depend on personnel to help them do their jobs. An O-1 visa holder with exceptional musical ability, for example, may have assistants who help the performer prepare for a show.
Generally, the O-2 visa is for highly-valuable assistants of O-1 visa holders. If you provide a valuable, indispensable skill to an O-1 visa holder, you may qualify for an O-2 visa.
Not all O-1 visa holders are entitled to bring staff to the United States on an O-2 visa. The O-2 visa is only available for the personnel of O-1 visa holders visiting the U.S. while working in TV, film, and athletics. O-1 visa holders working in education, business, or science are not permitted to bring staff to the U.S. with them on an O-2 visa.
The O-2 visa is entirely dependent on the O-1 visa. The O-1 visa must have a job in the United States, and the American employer must sponsor both the O-1 visa applicant and the O-2 visa applicant. Both the O-1 and O-2 visa holders will be considered employees in the United States.
In most cases, the O-2 visa will last as long as the O-1 visa. If the O-1 visa holder is scheduled to perform in the United States until 15 June, then the O-2 visa will likely last until 15 June as well.
O-2 Visa Requirements
The O-2 visa comes with special requirements, including all of the following:
- You must be a critical member of the performance or work of the O-1 visa holder
- The O-1 visa holder must be working in film, athletics, arts, or television; O-2 visas are not available to O-1 visa holders working in education, business, or science
- You must have sufficient skills and experience to assist the O-1 visa holder while in the United States, including skills that allow you to perform tasks that cannot be completed by any ordinary employee
- The duties you perform for the O-1 visa holder must be unique and unable to be performed by a worker in the United States
- You must only work with individuals who have a valid O-1 visa; you cannot engage in other employment in the United States, even if that employment is related to your skills and experience
- You must return to your home country once your visa expires; you may be required to provide proof that you are returning to your home country upon the expiry of your O-2 visa
How to Apply for the O-2 Visa
The O-2 visa application process involves several steps. Your U.S. employer (the person sponsoring the O-1 visa and O-2 visa) must file an employment petition. Once that employment petition has been filed and approved, you can proceed with the remaining O-2 visa application steps.
Step 1) File the Employment Petition
The U.S. employer hiring the O-1 and O-2 visa holders must file a petition to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). The employer will file form I-129, Application for Non-Immigrant Worker to the United States. The form must be filed at least 45 days before your employment is scheduled to begin in the United States, although it cannot be filed more than 6 months prior to your scheduled date of employment. As part of this form, your employer must also submit documents like the following:
- Opinion Letter from a Labor Organization or Similar Group: Your form I-129 petition should include an opinion letter from a certified labor organization, peer group, or management organization. The letter should describe how your work is instrumental to the success of the O-1 visa holder. The letter should also explain that there are no available employees in the United States who can fulfill that role. The letter may list your unique skills and experience, for example. If your line of work does not have a peer group, labor organization, or similar group, then you may be exempt from this requirement.
- Employment Contract: The form I-129 petition should include a copy of your employment contract with the U.S. employer. The contract will describe the details of your employment, including the length of your employment, your anticipated salary, and other details.
- Work Description: The O-2 visa application petition must include a description of the work you will perform for the O-1 visa holder, including the dates of the work, any events, and other details. What do you do for the O-1 visa holder? How is the work that you perform instrumental to the success of the O-1 visa holder? What do your day-to-day activities include?
Once the employer has sent the form I-129 petition and supporting documents to USCIS, your O-2 visa application will enter the review period. USCIS will then decide to accept or deny the petition. If the petition from your employer is approved, then you and your employer will receive Form I-797, Notice of Action. At this point, you can proceed with the rest of the visa application process.
Step 2) File Form DS-160
Form DS-160 is the standard non-immigrant visa application form that allows you to temporarily enter the United States. The form is available at the website of your local U.S. embassy or consulate. Complete the form accurately. Upon completion of the form, you will be asked to pay the O-2 visa application fee before receiving a confirmation page and code. Keep this information.
Step 3) Pay the O-2 Visa Fee
The O-2 visa has an application fee of $190, although specific fees can vary between countries.
Step 4) Schedule your Visa Interview
Once you have completed form DS-160 and paid your visa fee, you can schedule an in-person interview with your local U.S. embassy. All visa applicants are required to go through an interview if they are between ages 14 and 79. During the interview, a member of the consular staff will verify the information on your O-2 visa application before granting final approval or denial of your O-2 visa.
Step 5) Gather Required Documents
Before your visa interview, you will need to gather and submit your required documents. Required documents for an O-2 visa application include:
- A valid passport
- A photograph that complies with photo requirements
- DS-160 confirmation code
- Visa interview letter
- Receipts confirming you have paid all fees
- Form I-797
- Proof of a contract with the O-1 visa holder
- Documents proving your unique skills, experience, or ability that is instrumental to the O-1 visa holder performing his or her job in the United States
- Documents proving you intend to return to your home country upon completion of your O-2 visa, including a property deed, family contact information, or an employment contract in your home country
- Proof of your relationship to the family (if you intend to bring the family to the United States on an O-3 dependency visa)
Step 6) Attend your Interview
The final step in the O-2 visa application process is to attend your interview at the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate. When you arrive at the U.S. embassy, you will have your fingerprints taken. Then, you will sit down for an interview with a member of the U.S. embassy or consulate. The consular officer will determine whether you are valid to enter the United States on an O-2 visa.
How Long Does It Take to Process an O-2 Visa?
O-2 visa processing times vary between countries depending on the workload of the local U.S. embassy. Typically, visas in the O category, including O-1, O-2, and O-3 visas, can take anywhere from 4 to 12 weeks to process.
Certain O visas can be processed more quickly. You and your employer can choose to pay a premium processing fee of $1,225, for example, which allows you to get a response on your visa within 2 weeks or fewer.
How Long Does My O-2 Visa Last?
The O-2 visa’s validity period is tied directly to the O-1 visa. You will initially be approved to work for three years in the United States on a typical O-2 visa. However, the O-2 visa can be extended – say, if the O-1 visa holder plans to continue working in the United States.
As an O-2 visa holder, you can apply for an extension of an unlimited number of times. Extensions are available in one-year increments. As long as the O-1 visa holder can continue applying for an extension, then the O-2 visa holder can apply for an extension as well.
Furthermore, it’s also possible for an O-2 visa holder to switch employers while in the United States. If you switch to a new employer during your stay in the United States, then you can remain in the U.S. under the same O-2 visa, although your new employer must file a new petition for you with USCIS.
Can I Get a Green Card With an O-2 Visa?
The O-2 visa is a non-immigrant visa that allows you to work temporarily in the United States. It is not designed to be a pathway for establishing permanent residence and getting your green card.
As part of the O-2 visa application process, you are required to provide proof that you intend to return to your home country upon the expiry of your O-2 visa. If you do not intend to return to your home country, then your O-2 visa may be denied.
In certain circumstances, an O-2 visa holder can establish permanent residence in the United States and get a green card. If you find an employer willing to sponsor you for an H-1B visa, for example, then you may be able to establish lawful permanent resident status. Alternatively, you can marry a U.S. citizen and change your immigration status.
Can My Dependents Join Me in the United States on an O-2 Visa?
O-2 visa holders are allowed to bring dependents with them to the United States. Dependents include:
- Your lawful spouse
- Unmarried children under 21 years of age
If you wish to bring the family to the United States while on your O-2 visa, and your family members meet the above requirements, they may be able to apply for an O-3 visa. The O-3 visa is a dependency visa that will remain active for as long as the O-2 visa is active.
By following the guide above, you can simplify the O-2 visa application process and arrive in the United States safely and legally.