What Is An O-1 Visa?
What is an O-1 visa?
The O-1 visa is a temporary work visa available to
those foreign nationals who have “extraordinary ability in the sciences, arts,
education, business or athletics” which “have been demonstrated by sustained
national or international acclaim.” It is also available to those in motion
pictures and television who can demonstrate a record of “extraordinary
achievement.” The INS interprets the statute very broadly to encompass most
fields of creative endeavor. For example, chefs, carpenters and lecturers can
all obtain O-1 visas. The person entering the US must be coming to work in their
field of ability, but the position need not require the services of a person of
can I qualify for an O-1 visa based on extraordinary ability in science,
education, business or athletics?
To obtain an O-1 visa to work in the sciences,
education, business or athletics, applicants must demonstrate that they possess
“a level of expertise indicating that the person is one of the small
percentage who have risen to the top of the field of endeavor.” There are two
ways to demonstrating this expertise. One method is through receiving a major
internationally recognized award such as a Nobel Prize. The more common way is
by providing documentation in three of the following categories:
Receipt of nationally or internationally recognized prizes
or awards for excellence in the field of endeavor
Membership in associations in the field which require
outstanding achievements of their members
Published material about the alien
Participation as a judge of the work of others in the same
or allied fields
Evidence of original contributions of significance in the
Authorship of scholarly articles
Evidence of employment in a critical or essential capacity
for organizations with a distinguished reputation
Evidence that the alien has or will command a high salary
Comparable evidence that does not fit within these
categories may also be submitted.
can I qualify for an O-1 visa based on extraordinary ability in the field of
Extraordinary ability in the arts means that the
applicant has attained “distinction.” Distinction is defined as “a high
level of achievement in the field of arts evidence by a degree of skill and
recognition substantially above that ordinarily encountered.” Distinction has
also been defined as prominence in the field of endeavor. The applicant can
demonstrate distinction by being the nominee or recipient of an important
national or international prize such as an Academy Award, Emmy, or Grammy, or by
submitting documentation in at least three of the following categories:
Evidence that the alien has performed, and will perform,
services as a lead or starring participant in productions or events which have a
distinguished reputation as evidenced by critical reviews, advertisements,
publicity released, publications contracts, or endorsements; Evidence that the
alien has achieved national or international recognition for achievements
evidenced by critical reviews or other published materials by or about the
individual in major newspapers, trade journals, magazines, or other
Evidence that the alien has performed, and will perform, in
a lead, starring, or critical role for organizations and establishments that
have a distinguished reputation evidenced by articles in newspapers, trade
journals, publications, or testimonials;
Evidence that the alien has a record or major commercial or
critically acclaimed successes as evidenced by such indicators as title, rating,
standing in the field, box office receipts, motion pictures or television
ratings, and other occupational achievements reported in trade journals, major
newspapers, or other publications;
Evidence that the alien has received significant
recognition for achievements from organizations, critics, government agencies,
or other recognized experts in the filed in which the alien is engaged. Such
testimonials must be in a form which clearly indicates the author’s authority,
expertise, and knowledge of the alien’s achievements; or
Evidence that the alien has either commanded a high salary
or will command a high salary or other substantial remuneration for services in
relation to others in the field, as evidence by contracts or other reliable
Comparable evidence may also be submitted.
can I qualify for an O-1 visa based on extraordinary achievement in television
or motion pictures?
The same criteria are used to determine extraordinary
achievement as are used in determining distinction in the arts. However, the
evidence is weighed differently and the applicant does not have to meet as high
is an O-2 visa?
An O-2 visa can be obtained for those accompanying
the O-1 visa holder who will assist the O-1 alien in their performance. To
qualify for an O-2 visa, the applicant must meet the following requirements:
Be an integral part of the actual performance
Have critical skills and experience that cannot be
performed by others
In television and motion pictures, have a long-standing
working relationship with the O-1 alien.
Evidence must be submitted to establish the
applicant’s essential role, and that they have skills and experience not
possessed by an immediately available US worker.
is required for my O visa to be granted?
Before a person will be granted either an O-1 or O-2
visa, USCIS requires a consultation with a US-based organization.
For applicants in the television and motion picture
industries, there must be a consultation with both the appropriate labor union
and management organization. This opinion must state the applicant’s
achievements in the field, and must state whether the position offered requires
a person of extraordinary achievement.
all other O-1 and O-2 applicants, the petition must include an advisory opinion
from a peer group, labor union, or person with expertise in the applicant’s
field. This opinion can either state simply that the group has no objection to
issuing the visa, or can detail the applicant’s achievements. If the
achievements are detailed, the letter should also address the applicant’s
ability, the nature of the position offered, and whether the position requires a
person of extraordinary ability.
Advisory opinions for O-2 applicants should outline
the essential role to be played by the support personnel, as well as their
relationship to the O-1 visa holder. It should also state whether there are
available US workers.
If the consultation is with an organization other
than a labor union, the INS will forward the application to the union it deems
appropriate within five days of receiving the petition. The union must issue an
opinion on the petition within 15 days, and then the INS has two weeks to rule
on the application.
If an O-1 applicant in the extraordinary ability in
the arts category has obtained a consultation within the past two years, they
need not obtain a new one. Nor is a new consultation required when seeking an
extension of any O visa.
How do I apply for an O visa?
An alien cannot apply for an O visa in his or her own
name. They can, however, file through a US agent. This is often done when the
alien beneficiary will be working for multiple employers (for example, they are
performing in a concert tour). In this case, contracts from each employer must
be submitted, as well as an itinerary. The petition should be filed at the
regional service center with jurisdiction over the US agent. If the petitioner
is a foreign employer, the application should be filed at the regional service
center with jurisdiction over the location of the first place the beneficiary
The form for petitioning for an O visa is the I-129.
This must be submitted along with the consultation opinion, evidence documenting
the alien’s extraordinary ability, and details of the proposed work in the US.
The petition is to be approved for the duration of the event in which the alien
will participate, for a maximum of three years.
I need an employer sponsor for an O-1?
No. But you cannot be self-sponsored either. Agents,
managers, concert venues, and others can sponsor the O-1 petition when there is
no appropriate employer.
Can an O visa be extended?
An O visa may be extended in one-year increments for
an indefinite period of time. Form I-129 is also used to file for an extension.
The application for an extension does not need to include a consultation, and
requires only a statement of why the extension is sought.
Finally, O visas are what are known as “dual intent
visas”, meaning that even though the applicant has filed a labor certification
or petition for classification as a preference worker leading to permanent
residence, the O visa cannot be denied.
Gregory Siskind is a partner in Siskind Susser's Memphis, Tennessee, office. After graduating magna cum laude from Vanderbilt University, he received his Juris Doctorate from the University of Chicago. Mr. Siskind is a member of AILA, a board member of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, and a member of the ABA, where he serves on the LPM Publishing Board as Marketing Vice Chairman. He is the author of several books, including the J Visa Guidebook and The Lawyer's Guide to Marketing on the Internet. Mr. Siskind practices all areas of immigration law, specializing in immigration matters of the health care and technology industries. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinion of ILW.COM.