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Alien of Extraordinary Ability US Visa

By Nita Nicole Upadhye

Table of Contents

Are you an Alien of Extraordinary Ability?

‘Alien of extraordinary ability’ is a classification used by USCIS for individuals who can demonstrate exceptional talent or professional achievements in one of a number of specialized fields.

If you qualify as an alien of extraordinary ability, you may be able to apply for a temporary work visa, known as the O-1 visa, or a permanent visa, ie a Green Card.

For both the temporary and permanent option visas, the standard to meet ‘extraordinary ability’ should not be underestimated. USCIS is looking for a level of expertise indicating you are one of a small percentage who has risen to the very top of your field of expertise. This means your petition must provide compelling evidence that you are uniquely experienced, qualified and recognized in a qualifying field to enter the US and to make contributions of major significance to the US.


What is the O-1 visa?

The O visa for extraordinary ability visa is open to individuals excelling in fields including:

  • Sciences
  • Arts
  • Education
  • Business
  • Athletics
  • Motion picture or television industry

The O-1 visa is a nonimmigrant classification comprises:

  • O-1A visa for individuals with proven extraordinary ability in science, education, business or athletics
  • O-1B visa for individuals with proven extraordinary ability in the arts or extraordinary achievement in the motion picture or television industry

Additionally, the O classification also includes:

  • O-2 visa for individuals to accompany an O-1 visa holder to assist in a specific event or performance. The O-2 applicant must possess skills and experience not available in the US resident labour market and that is critical to the performance of the O-1.
  • O-3 visa for O visa dependants, ie spouse or children of O-1 and O-2 visa holders who may legally reside and study in the US. The O-3 does not constitute work authorization.


Alien of Extraordinary Ability requirements

While the guidelines highlight esteemed awards such as Nobel prizes, the route remains open to others who can demonstrate high levels of expertise and achievement within their particular niche. It’s a matter of considering your professional status, achievements and circumstances in the context of what the US authorities are looking for in successful applicants, and identifying and defining a field which would meet these thresholds and then, importantly, laying out your achievements and capabilities in this specific area.

In addition, the supporting evidence will play a determining factor in any extraordinary ability application. Testimonials from high profile individuals who are themselves recognized as being of extraordinary ability in your field will be highly persuasive.

Ordinarily, ‘professions’ such as attorneys and finance specialists would not be eligible under the O classification. Take professional advice on your circumstances to ascertain your O eligibility and to explore alternative immigration options.


O-1 visa requirements

Eligibility requirements are stringent, and include having to evidence:

  • sustained national or international acclaim,
  • achievements recognized by others in the field of expertise, and
  • A level of expertise indicating that the individual is one of that small percentage who have risen to the very top of the field of endeavor.

Beyond professional capability and achievement, to qualify for the O-1 you must also demonstrate:

  • You are intending to temporarily move to the United States.
  • You will continue to work in that area of extraordinary ability.
  • You have an itinerary of performances or events or a full-time role in the U.S. in your field of extraordinary ability.


Evidentiary requirements to demonstrate extraordinary ability

Evidence will need to be compiled and submitted to establish you hold sustained national or international acclaim and that your achievements have been recognized in the field of expertise. The adjudicating officer will consider all of the submitted evidence “in totality” to determine whether the applicant has the requisite extraordinary ability to the standard specified within the O statute and regulations.


O-1A visa evidence:

  • Receipt of a major, internationally recognized award.
  • At least three items of acceptable documentary evidence from the prescribed list (see below), in support of your ability and achievements, such as proof of original contribution in your field, high salary, membership in prestigious organizations.


O-1B visa evidence:

  • Evidence that you have received, or been nominated for, significant national or international awards or prizes in the particular field, such as an Academy Award, Emmy, Grammy or Director’s Guild Award.
  • At least three items of acceptable documentary evidence from the prescribed list (below), in support of your ability and achievements, such as record of major commercial success, significant recognition for achievements, substantial remuneration

New policy guidance issued in March 2023 includes an appendix with examples of the types of supporting documentation that may be submitted under each of the six O-1B evidentiary criteria. Where the examples within the appendix do not readily apply to the applicant’s occupation, they may submit comparable evidence to establish their eligibility. When relying on comparable evidence, the standard remains the same and the applicant must through this evidence show that they possess extraordinary ability in their field of endeavor.


How long does the O-1 visa last?

O-1 visas are granted for a maximum of 3 years, but will ordinary last the duration of a specific event such as a project or tour. O-1A and B visas can be renewed for increments of 12 months. They are renewable indefinitely, provided you continue to meet O-1 visa requirements.


EB-1A & US permanent residency for aliens of extraordinary ability

The O-1 visa also offers holders a path to US permanent residence where they qualify to apply to change status to lawful permanent residence. Immediate family members of O-1s may also become eligible to apply for permanent residency.

For aliens of extraordinary ability seeking to secure permanent residence status in the US, the immigrant visa to consider would in most cases be the EB-1A classification.

Although similar, the O-1 visa and the EB-1A are different in a number of significant ways. While both are achievement-based, work visas, and are both aimed at individuals who can demonstrate and evidence extraordinary ability, the O-1 visa is a temporary, nonimmigrant visa which must be renewed for the holder to remain in the US beyond their visa expiry. The EB-1A however offers indefinite permission to remain in the US (ie a Green Card), on the basis of the applicant’s extraordinary ability and achievements.

Green card applicants should prepare for the application to be subjected to closer scrutiny than any previous O-1 visa petition, given the permanent nature of the outcome. As such, the supporting documentation for the Green Card petition will need to be extensive, to ensure the adjudicator can determine positively that the eligibility criteria have been satisfied.


Evidencing extraordinary ability for a Green Card

Unless you have been awarded an internationally recognized award such as an Olympic medal or a Nobel Prize, you will need to meet and evidence at least three of the following criteria:

  • Lesser nationally or internationally recognized prizes or awards
  • Membership in associations that require outstanding achievement (as judged by recognized experts)
  • Significant published material (written by others) about you and your work
  • Service as judge of the work of others in your field
  • Major contributions to your field
  • Scholarly articles or publications
  • Artistic exhibitions or showcases
  • Leading or critical role for distinguished organizations
  • High salary or remuneration (compared to others in the field)
  • Commercial success in performing arts


Form I-140 is used to file for the EB-1A. At the same time, you can also file form I-485 with USCIS to adjust status from nonimmigrant (O-1) to immigrant (EB-1A).


Need assistance?

If you are considering your US immigration options and believe the O visa may be appropriate, take professional legal advice on your circumstances and eligibility and for consideration of alternative visa options.

NNU Immigration are specialists in US visa applications. We have extensive experience in the O visa and Green Card applications, helping individuals of extraordinary ability across a diverse range of fields. We can advise on your circumstances, and support you through the visa application and interview process including strategies for your submission and supporting documents. Contact us if you have a question about the O-1 visa.


Alien of Extraordinary Ability FAQs

What is the visa alien with extraordinary abilities?

The US O-1 visa is for individuals deemed to have exceptional standing and recognition in their professional field within either sciences, arts, education, business, athletics, motion picture or television industry.


How hard is it to get EB-1A visa?

The EB-1A is for those who are at globally recognised as leaders in their field with sustained national or international acclaim.


How do you prove extraordinary ability?

The O1 visa rules specify certain evidential requirements specific to the relevant professional field that applicants must show to prove extraordinary ability.


What is EB-1A alien of extraordinary ability?

The EB-1A is the US Green Card category for individuals who are recognised global leaders in their field.

This article does not constitute direct legal advice and is for informational purposes only.


Founder & Principal Attorney Nita Nicole Upadhye is a recognized leader in the field of US business immigration law, (The Legal 500, Who's Who Legal and AILA) and an experienced and trusted advisor to large multinational corporates through to SMEs. She provides strategic immigration advice and specialist application support to corporations and professionals, entrepreneurs, investors, artists, actors and athletes from across the globe to meet their US-bound talent mobility needs.

Nita is an active public speaker, thought leader, immigration commentator, and immigration policy contributor and regularly hosts training sessions for employers and HR professionals.

Need legal advice?

For specialist advice on your query, get in touch with our team of US immigration attorneys.​

Need legal advice?

For specialist advice on your query, get in touch with our team of US immigration attorneys.

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For specialist advice on a US immigration or nationality matter for your business, contact our US immigration attorneys.

For specialist advice on a US immigration or nationality matter for your business, contact our US immigration attorneys.