How to Apply for the US O1 Visa

What is the application process for the O1 Extraordinary Ability Visa?

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

The O-1A visa applies to individuals with proven extraordinary ability in science, education, business or athletics, whereas the O-1B is for individuals with proven extraordinary ability in the arts or extraordinary achievement in the motion picture or television industry.

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Eligibility criteria

The qualifying requirements for the O-1 visa are exceptionally stringent. 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, and that you have an itinerary of performances or events or a full-time role in the U.S. in your field of extraordinary ability.

O-1 visas are 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 There is no limit on the number of extensions you can apply for, provided you continue to satisfy the eligibility criteria.

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.

O-1 visa petition & evidence

The first stage in the application process is for a visa petition to be to 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 one of:

  • Your employer
  • A US-based agent if you are to be employed in the US by a foreign company

Note that prospective employment in the US is not permitted.

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

This should include a full itinerary and description of the activities you intend to undertake or perform during yur 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.

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

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.

Visa interview

O-1 petitions that have been approved will move on to the next stage, the visa interview.

You will be required to attend an interview in person at a US embassy or Consular Office outside the US.

The specific interview procedure will vary depending on which consular post you made your application to.

During the interview you will be expected to answer questions on the information provided in your initial petition, covering your employment, qualifications, experience as well as your personal background and travel history.

You will be notified of the decision made on your application at your interview.

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

Your passport with embossed O-1A visa stamp will 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-1A status in line with the employment detailed in your O-1A 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.

There is no given timescale for standard processing of O-1 visa petitions. Processing times will vary depending on the post where the petition is being adjudicated and the general caseload.

Premium processing may be available for an additional fee. 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.

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

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.

Can I renew my O-1 visa?

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

Can my family join me in the US?

As an O-1, 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.

Do you have a question about the O1 visa application process?  NNU can help!

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.

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