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O1 Visa Requirements

By Nita Nicole Upadhye

Table of Contents

O1 Visa Requirements

Overseas nationals with extraordinary ability or achievements may be eligible for an O1 work visa, one of the most prestigious US nonimmigrant visas, due to its’ numerous advantages and flexibilities compared to other similar immigration classifications. Below we provide a comprehensive guide for O1 visa individuals with extraordinary ability or achievement, from what eligibility requirements must be met, to the cost and processing times involved.

 

What is the O-1 visa?

The O-1 visa is aimed at non-US nationals who can demonstrate excellence in achievement and capability within a specific professional field.

It offers those with ‘extraordinary ability’ in their profession the permission to come to the US to live and be employed wihtout having to maintain a foreign residence. O-1 visa holders can also bring their dependents and key employees to support them while they are in the US working.

O-1 visas are generally issued for up to three years, or to cover the duration of a specific event or project. In any case, the maximum initial period for an O-1 visa is three years, with the option to apply to extend the visa for a further 12 months. However, there is no limit on the number of extensions you can apply for, provided you continue to satisfy the eligibility criteria.

While the O-1 application process is not as onerous as other US work visa classifications (such as sponsorship under the H-1B), you will be required to compile and submit extensive documentation to evidence you hold the necessary distinguished status and that you meet the strict visa requirements.

 

Which O-1 visa?

If you are determining your O visa eligibility, the first step will be to decide which type of O-1 visa you would apply for. The O-1 visa classification comprises the following two categories:

  • The O-1A visa: for individuals with extraordinary ability in either the sciences, education, business or athletics, but not including the arts, or the motion picture and television industry (MPTV)
  • The O-1B visa: for individuals with either an extraordinary ability in the arts, or who have a proven record of extraordinary achievement in the MPTV industry.

The O-1 visa is suitable for non-US nationals who have a job offer in the US and cam show extraordinary ability, have produced original scientific or scholarly contributions or have been awarded major industry prizes or other forms of formal recognition for their outstanding achievements.

 

O-1 eligibility criteria

The qualifying requirements for the O-1 visa are determined by your profession and the category you are applying for.

  • An O-1A individual must have sustained national or international acclaim, as one of the very small percentage who have arisen to the top of their field;
  • An O-1B (Arts) individual must have sustained national or international acclaim, and achieved distinction in the field of arts. This ‘distinction’ and ‘acclaim’ must be evidenced by a degree of skill and recognition substantially above that ordinarily encountered, to the extent that the prominent person is either renowned, leading or well-known in that field;
  • An O-1B (MPTV) individual must have a record of extraordinary achievement in the MPTV industry, such that they have a very high level of accomplishment. This ‘accomplishment’ must be evidenced by a degree of skill and recognition significantly above that ordinarily encountered, to the extent that the person is recognised as outstanding, notable or leading in that field.

As well as meeting the eligibility criteria for status and achievement, you must also satisfy additional requirements that you will continue to work in your area of specialism during your stay in the US, although the particular duties to be performed don’t necessarily require someone of such extraordinary ability or achievement, and satisfy that you have an itinerary of performances or events or a full-time role in the US in your field of extraordinary ability. You can only be travelling to the United States to work in your field of expertise for a temporary period of time.

Note that prospective employment in the US is not permitted; you would only be eligible under the O-1 visa if you have work or a job in the US.

 

O-1 visa application process

Meeting the standard for extraordinary ability is just the start. You will need to make a formal application to USCIS, which must provide sufficient compelling evidence to support your case and you will also be required to attend a visa interview at a US Embassy or Consulate outside the US.

The first stage in the application process is for a visa petition to be submitted by a US company on your behalf in which you must demonstrate you have set work in the US in your field of extraordinary ability. The petitioning company could be your employer or US-based agent if you are to be employed in the US by a foreign company.

The petitioner must submit Form I-129 and supporting evidence to demonstrate your eligibility for the O-1 visa.

 

O-1 supporting documents

In addition to Form I-129, together with duplicates of the form and all documentation, including any certified translation where the documents are in a foreign language, the petitioner must submit:

  • A written advisory opinion from either a peer group, or labour/management organisation, with expertise in the beneficiary’s area of ability. If the O1 petition is for an individual with extraordinary achievement in the MPTV industry, the petitioner must submit separate consultations from the relevant labour and management organisations;
  • A copy of any contract between the petitioner and beneficiary, or a written summary of the terms of any verbal agreement under which the beneficiary will be employed in the US;
  • A written explanation of the nature of the events or activities in which the beneficiary will be taking part, including the beginning and ending dates for those events or activities, and a copy of any itinerary where the beneficiary is required to work in more than one location;
  • Evidence of O1 eligibility, where this evidence, as a whole, must demonstrate that the beneficiary meets the relevant standards for the specific type of O1 classification.

 

The supporting documents should include a full itinerary and description of the activities you intend to undertake or perform during your stay in the US and your contract of employment for the US or a summary of the terms that will apply to your US employment.

To show you have the required standing within your profession, you will have to provide proof in line with the regulations (8 CFR 214.2(o), for example, proof of receipt of a major internationally recognized award, such as a Nobel Prize, published material in professional or major trade publications in the field of endeavor or authorship of scholarly articles in the field in professional journals or other major media. The evidentiary requirement is extensive and complex, and it is recommended to take professional advice to ensure you are provide the correct information and documents.

Evidence will also be required that the services to be performed either require an individual of extraordinary ability due to the complex needs of the role or assignment within the particular business project, or the services primarily involve a specific scientific or educational project, conference, convention, lecture or exhibit sponsored by scientific or educational organizations or establishments.

 

O-1 visa evidentiary requirements

In addition, you will need to meet the ‘consultation’ evidentiary requirement. If a suitable US peer group exists within your field of expertise, you may be required to obtain an ‘advisory opinion’ in respect of your application and whether, on the peer group’s assessment of your qualifications and achievements, you would be deemed to be of extraordinary ability.

Where no such US equivalent peer group exists, USCIS will adjudicate on the extraordinary ability requirement on the basis of your submitted documentation.

 

O-1A evidentiary requirements

All petitioners, on behalf of O1 visa individuals with extraordinary ability or achievement, must be able to provide extensive documentation of O1 eligibility, although there are different evidentiary requirements depending on their specialised field.

In some instances, if the petitioner is unable to obtain the exact documentation listed below, they may instead be able to provide comparable evidence. The most important thing is for the petitioner to present the documentation in a way that the totality of the evidence submitted to USCIS demonstrates that the beneficiary meets the relevant standard for O1 classification.

For an O-1A petition, this must be accompanied either by evidence that the beneficiary has received a major internationally recognised award, such as the Nobel Prize, or at least three of the following alternative forms of evidence:

  • Receipt of either nationally or internationally recognised prizes or awards for excellence in their field, including from well-known national institutions and professional associations;
  • Membership in associations in the beneficiary’s field, which require outstanding achievements of their members, as judged by recognised national or international experts;
  • Published material about the beneficiary in either professional/major trade publications or major media, relating to the beneficiary’s work in their field, including the title, date and author of such published material and any necessary translation;
  • Participation by the beneficiary on a panel, or individually judging the work of others in the same or in an allied field of specialisation;
  • Original scientific, scholarly or business-related contributions made by the beneficiary in their specialised field and considered to be of major significance;
  • Authorship of scholarly articles made by the beneficiary in their specialised field in either professional journals or other major media;
  • Proof of current or previous employment undertaken by the beneficiary in a critical or essential capacity for organisations and establishments with a distinguished reputation;
  • Proof of past or proffered high salary, or other remuneration for services undertaken by the beneficiary, as evidenced by contracts or any other reliable evidence.

 

O-1B (Arts/MPTV) evidentiary requirements

An O-1B (Arts/MPTV) petition must be accompanied by evidence that the beneficiary has either received, or been nominated for, a significant national or international award in their field, such as an Academy Award, or at least three of the following forms of evidence:

  • Critical reviews, advertisements, publicity releases, publications, contracts or endorsements showing that the beneficiary has performed, and will be performing, services as either a lead or starring participant in productions/events with a distinguished reputation;
  • Critical reviews or other published materials either by or about the beneficiary in major newspapers, trade journals, magazines or other publications showing that the beneficiary has achieved national or international recognition for achievements;
  • Articles in either newspapers, trade journals, publications or testimonials showing that the beneficiary has performed, and will be performing, in either a lead, starring or critical role for organisations and establishments that have a distinguished reputation;
  • Trade journals, major newspapers or other publications showing that the beneficiary has a record of either major commercial or critically acclaimed successes, evidenced by things like box office receipts, film or television ratings and other occupational achievements;
  • Testimonials to show that the beneficiary has received significant recognition for achievements from either organisations, critics, government agencies or other recognised experts in the field in which the beneficiary is engaged, in a form clearly indicating the author’s authority, expertise and knowledge of the beneficiary’s achievements;
  • Proof of past or proffered high salary, or other substantial remuneration for services in relation to others in the field, as evidenced by contracts or any other reliable evidence.

In addition to showing the extraordinary ability or achievement of the O1 individual, by way of extensive documentary evidence, the petitioner must also provide evidence to demonstrate that the beneficiary is coming to the United States to continue work in their specialised field.

 

Exceptions to the evidentiary requirement

Exceptions to the consultation requirement may also apply in the arts where certain conditions apply. Take advice on your circumstances.

For a petition to be approved, the petitioner must not only be able to prove extraordinary ability or achievement, they must be able to provide evidence of the terms and conditions of employment, a breakdown of what the beneficiary will be doing in the US, and a written advisory opinion from a group or organisation with expertise in their specialised field.

In most cases, a petition will be denied if the petitioner is unable to produce the necessary documentation in all instances. However, there are limited exceptions to what’s commonly known as ‘the consultation requirement’, for example, where an employer or agent can show that an appropriate peer group, including a labour organisation, doesn’t exist. Equally, if the beneficiary has extraordinary ability in the field of arts and is seeking readmission to the US to perform similar services within a period of 2 years of the date of a previous consultation, there is no requirement to file a fresh consultation. The employer or agent must instead submit a waiver request to USCIS, and a copy of the last consultation, with their petition.

 

Avoiding delays with your application

Delays can occur during the adjudication stage where the officer seeks further information or clarification on information or evidence provided, or where additional documents are requested. Note that since October 2018, adjudicating officers have full discretion to deny an application without first having to issue a request for further evidence. It is therefore critical to ensure your application is full and correct at the point it is submitted.

Only once the petition has been approved by USCIS, and the applicant is in possession of either the Notice of Action, Form I-797, or petition receipt number, can they then go on to apply for an O1 visa through their nearest US Embassy or Consulate. This can be done by completing online Form DS-160 and scheduling an in-person interview. They must attend this interview with a number of additional documents, including their passport or other travel document. For more information visit the nearest US Embassy or Consulate website.

 

O-1 visa interview

For processing of your application to be completed, you will be required to attend an interview in person at a US embassy or Consular Office outside the US.

The actual interview procedure will vary depending on which Embassy or consular post is handling your application, but in general, you should expect and prepare for questions on the information provided in your initial petition, covering your employment, qualifications, experience as well as your personal background and travel history.

If your application is approved the consular officer will retain your passport for visa stamping.

Your passport, with the embossed O-1 visa stamp, will usually be returned to you within approximately one week of your interview. Once received you are permitted to travel to the US to work in O-1 status in line with the employment detailed in your O-1 petition.

 

How long does the visa application process take?

Form I-129 should be filed at least 45 days before the date of employment, but no earlier than 1 year prior to the start of employment in the US.

The standard processing time for a petition to be approved or denied is typically 2-3 months, although processing times may vary depending on the post where the petition is being adjudicated and the level of caseload and other factors such as services restrictions due to the pandemic or US immigration policy.

Premium processing may also be available for an additional fee of $2,805. USCIS should then make a decision on the petition within around 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. You will need to enquire at the Embassy that is processing your application as to whether premium processing is available.

 

How much is the O-1 visa application?

The cost for O1 visa individuals with extraordinary ability or achievement when applying for an O1 visa is made up of a non-refundable $1055 filing fee for Form I-129 for applications filed on or after April 1, 2024 ($460 for applications prior to April 1, 2024). This fee is reduced to $530 for smaller companies, ie those with 25 or fewer full-time employees.

In addition, there is a $205 fee to File Form DS-160 once the petition is approved.

A new Asylum Program Fee of $600 will also be payable by employers who file a Form I–129, Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker, on or after April 1, 2024. This chargeable at $600, or $300 for smaller employers, or nil for nonprofits.

 

How long does an O-1 visa last?

The initial period of stay under an O1 visa includes the time needed to complete the event or activity, not to exceed 3 years. However, an O1 visa-holder may be eligible to extend their stay in increments of up to a year at a time to continue or complete the same event or activity for which they were granted permission, with no limit to the number of extensions.

The O1 visa is also a dual intent visa, which allows the visa-holder to adjust their status from a temporary resident to a green card holder, meaning they can lawfully apply for permanent residence whilst they are in the United States under O1 classification.

 

Does an O-1 visa lead to US permanent residence?

Unlike most other temporary US work visas, the O-1 visa does offer a path to a US Green Card. Specific eligibility requirements apply for the Extraordinary Ability Gree Card and you will need to make an application to change your status to lawful permanent resident, which we detail here.

 

Can I renew my O-1 visa?

O-1A and O-1B visas are both renewable indefinitely, provided you make the extension applications on time and that you continue to meet the O-1 visa requirements.

 

Can my family join me in the US?

As an O-1 holder, you can apply for your spouse and children (unmarried and under 21 years of age) to join you in the US under the O-3 visa for the same duration as your visa. The O-3 visa permits holders to live and study in the US, but not undertake paid employment.

 

Need assistance?

The O visa classification is inherently complex. The evidentiary requirements are stringent, and have come under closer scrutiny under the current US administration.

If you have a question about an O-1 visa application, NNU Immigration are specialist US attorneys with particular expertise and experience supporting O-1 visa applicants. Contact us for help with your application or to explore alternative US immigration options that may be open to you.

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.

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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.