CALL US: +44 (0)20 8004 3492

O Visa USA: Guidance for Applicants

By Nita Nicole Upadhye

Table of Contents

O Visa USA: Guidance for Applicants

The O visa comprises three categories:

  • O-1 visa for individuals possessing extraordinary ability in their field and who have a qualifying offer of work in the US.
  • O-2 visa for individuals offering key assistance and support to the O-1 visa holder in their field of work.
  • O-3 visa for spouses and children of O-1 and O-2 visa holders.

We look at each category in turn, with their individual eligibility requirements and rules on what visa holders are allowed to do.

 

O-1 visa requirements

The O-1 visa allows individuals with exceptional ability and standing in their professional field to come to the US temporarily to perform or work under qualifying employment.

It is split into two distinct categories:

  • O-1A visa for those with extraordinary ability in science, education, business, or athletics.
  • O-1B if you have extraordinary ability in the arts.

The eligibility and evidentiary requirements vary between the two categories. Taking professional advice will ensure you build a submission that works to the relevant rules and thresholds.

A mandatory rquirements of the O-1 visa is to have secured employment in the US, which you must be able to evidence adequately within your application.

O-1 visa application processing is generally much quicker than that of other US work visas, and it also allows for eligible dependents and key personnel to join the O-1 visa holder (see below).

O-1A and B visas are renewable indefinitely, provided you continue to meet O-1 visa requirements.

You may potentially be eligible for an Extraordinary Ability Green Card but you will need to take advice to determine the options available to you.

The visa rules are specific and extensive in stipulating the evidence and documents that are needed to evidence O-1 eligibility. In brief, you will need to prove either:

 

O-1A visa

  • You have received a major, internationally-recognized award in your particular field.

Or:

  • Submit at least three of the below documents, or comparable evidence, to prove your eligibility:
    • Documentation of your receipt of nationally or internationally recognized prizes or awards for excellence in your field of endeavour;
    • Documentation of your membership in associations in your field which require outstanding achievements of their members, as judged by recognized national or international experts in their disciplines or fields;
    • Published material in professional or major trade publications or major media about you, relating to your work in the field.
    • Evidence of your participation on a panel or as a judge of the work of others in your field.
    • Evidence of your original scientific, scholarly, or business-related contributions of major significance in the field;
    • Evidence of your authorship of scholarly articles in the field, in professional journals, or other major media;
    • Evidence that you have been employed in a critical or essential capacity for organizations and establishments that have a distinguished reputation; or
    • Evidence that you have commanded a high salary or you will command a high salary for your services.

 

O-1B visa

  • Evidence that you have been nominated for, or have been the recipient of, significant national or international awards or prizes in your field.

Or:

  • Submit at least three of the below documents, or comparable evidence, to prove your eligibility:
    • Evidence you have performed, and will perform services as a lead or starring participant in productions or events which have a distinguished reputation;
    • Evidence you have achieved national or international recognition for achievements evidenced by critical reviews or other published materials by or about you in major publications;
    • Evidence you have performed, and will perform, in a lead, starring or critical role for organizations and establishments that have a distinguished reputation;
    • Evidence that you have a record of major commercial or critically acclaimed successes;
    • Evidence that you have received significant recognition for achievements from experts in the field; or
    • Evidence that you have commanded a high salary or will command a high salary in relation to others in the field.

 

Applying for the O-1 visa

Delays generally arise where there are issues or complications with the application, making it critical to ensure your application is robust, comprehensive, correct and stands up adjudicator scrutiny.

The evidence you provide with your O-1 application will be critical in ensuring your eligibility is proven, leading to smooth processing and a faster decision.

The following supporting documentary evidence is to be filed with your Form I-129:

1. Proof of Extraordinary ability

Central to the O-1 visa application will be your eligibility as an alien of extraordinary ability.

The specific type of evidence will depend on the type of O-1 visa you are applying for, but in all cases, it is recommended to over-document in support of your application rather than make assumptions. Scrutiny of all US visa classifications is increasing, and O visa applicants will need to overcome the high visa threshold through their documentation.

O-1A visa official evidence

  • You have received a major, internationally-recognized award in your particular field eg Nobel Prize.

Or

  • Submit at least three of the below documents, or comparable evidence, to prove your eligibility:
    • Documentation of your receipt of nationally or internationally recognized prizes or awards for excellence in your field of endeavour;
    • Documentation of your membership in associations in your field which require outstanding achievements of their members, as judged by recognized national or international experts in their disciplines or fields;
    • Published material in professional or major trade publications or major media about you, relating to your work in the field.
    • Evidence of your participation on a panel or as a judge of the work of others in your field.
    • Evidence of your original scientific, scholarly, or business-related contributions of major significance in the field;
    • Evidence of your authorship of scholarly articles in the field, in professional journals, or other major media;
    • Evidence that you have been employed in a critical or essential capacity for organizations and establishments that have a distinguished reputation; or
    • Evidence that you have commanded a high salary or you will command a high salary for your services.

O-1B visa official evidence

  • Evidence that you have been nominated for, or have been the recipient of, significant national or international awards or prizes in your field.

Or

  • Submit at least three of the below documents, or comparable evidence, to prove your eligibility:
    • Evidence you have performed, and will perform services as a lead or starring participant in productions or events which have a distinguished reputation;
    • Evidence you have achieved national or international recognition for achievements evidenced by critical reviews or other published materials by or about you in major publications;
    • Evidence you have performed, and will perform, in a lead, starring or critical role for organizations and establishments that have a distinguished reputation;
    • Evidence that you have a record of major commercial or critically acclaimed successes;
    • Evidence that you have received significant recognition for achievements from experts in the field; or
    • Evidence that you have commanded a high salary or will command a high salary in relation to others in the field.

 

2. Contract of employment

A key requirement of the O-1 visa is to have secured qualifying employment in the US.

The adjudicator will need to be satisfied that you have eligible employment lined up, meaning your application will need to offer sufficient evidence.

The most obvious proof will be a copy of your contract with your intended US-based employer.

If you do not have a written contract, a summary of terms should be provided, supported by other forms of evidence such as email exchanges with the employer that support and verify the terms.

3. Itinerary

In addition to the terms of your employment, USCIS will also want to understand the type of the activities you will perform in the US. This demands detail relating to your schedule and the nature of the activities you will be engaged in as part of your role.

Details of any planned events, performances, talks etc relating to your field of extraordinary ability and proposed job in the US should be given. This also give indication to the adjudicator of how long you will be required to be in the US.

4. Consultation

A further piece of documentary evidence is a written advisory opinion from an appropriate consulting entity or entities – if such an appropriate entity exists.

This should be provided by an individual or peer group with expertise in your specific field. To avoid any issues with authenticity, the submission given to USCIS must be in original form on official letterhead.

If no appropriate peer group exists, you will need to provide evidence to support this assertion. If accepted by USCIS, the application will be assessed on your application evidence alone.

 

O1 visa processing times

The O visa processing time is usually between 6 weeks to 3 months.

Generally speaking, the O visa USA processing time is typically shorter than that of other US visa applications, making another attractive feature of the route.

However, delays can result where there are issues or complexities with the application itself.

A determining factor in processing will be the caseload of the consular post where the application is bring processed and whether the application was submitted for standard or premium processing.

For an additional fee, you may request premium processing of your O visa petition to expedite the O visa USA processing time.

Under this service, USCIS will adjudicate your case within 15 calendar days. If a request for additional evidence is issued on a petition filed using the premium processing service, USCIS will have an additional 15 calendar days from receipt of the response to adjudicate the case.

If processing is not completed with 15 calendar days, with no additional evidence requirement, USCIS will refund the Premium Processing Service fee and the petition will continue to receive expedited processing.

 

O-2 visa requirements

The O-2 visa allows key employees of O-1 visa holders to travel with them to the US for the purpose of providing critical assistance in the performance of their O-1 role.

The visa will be granted for the same duration as the principal O-1 visa, up to maximum of 3 years. During the visa validity, you can travel in and out of the US freely provided your reason for travel is part of your support for the O-1 visa holder.

Dependents can apply to travel with you under the O-3 visa.

The O-2 visa is limited to employees of O-1s operating in the fields of arts, motion picture, television productions or athletics. O-1 visa holders in sciences, business or education cannot be accompanied by O 2 visa holders.

The working relationship between the principal visa holder and their support personnel must be pre-existing and longstanding and the applicant must show they are an integral part of the O-1’s performance, possessing essential skills and experience to the O-1’s performance.

The threshold is notably high for this route. With US immigration policy favoring domestic workers, your application will need to work hard to prove why you possess critical skills and experience that cannot be readily provided by a US worker, and which are essential to the O-1 athlete or artist’s performance.

O-2 visa holders are restricted to working for their O-1 visa employer while in the US.

 

O-3 visa requirements

The O-3 visa is a dependent visa for spouses and children of O-1 or O-2 visa holders. Their permission to remain in the US is directly linked to that of the principal visa holder. This means their visa validity reflects that of the O-1 or O-2 visa holder.

The O-3 visa is only open to spouses and children under the age of 21 of O1 or O-2 visa holders. Other family members, including parents of the principal visa holder, cannot apply under this route.

O-3 visa holders are permitted to enter and live in the US, where they can also study. They cannot however work. To attain employment authorization, O-3 visa holders will have to apply to transfer their status to a visa category that permits employment, such as the H-1B visa.

O-3 visas can be extended, but again, this has to mirror the validity of the principal visa holder. As such, they can only apply to extend if their O-1 or O-2 spouse or parent is also applying to extend.

Extensions are granted for 12 months and there is on limit on the number of times the visa can be extended, provided the visa holder continues to be eligible under the visa classification.

It is possible to apply at the same time as the principal visa holder, or to apply after the principal visa has ben granted.

 

Need assistance?

NNU Immigration are specialist US immigration attorneys with particular expertise in O visas. We guide applicants through the entire process, from eligibility advice to support with compiling compelling supporting evidence to support the application.

If you have a question about an O-1 visa, please contact us for advice.

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

Author

Founder & Principal Attorney Nita Nicole Upadhye is a recognized leader in the field of US business immigration law (AILA) and trusted adviser to large corporates through to SMEs, providing strategic immigration and global mobility advice to support employers with both US and UK operations to meet their workforce needs through corporate immigration.

Nita successfully acts for corporations and professionals, entrepreneurs, artists, actors, and athletes from across the globe, providing expert guidance on all aspects of US visa and nationality applications, and talent mobility to the USA.

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.

Share on social

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.