O1 Visa Requirements

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.

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.

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

If you work in science, education, business or athletics, you will have to show that you are within the upper echelons based on your expertise and ability, which distinguishes you from your peers and others in the field.

If you are active in the arts, you must be renowned, well-known and have higher achievements than others in the field.

In the motion picture or television industry, you will need to show you are a leading figure with a higher degree of skill and ability than your peers.

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 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 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.

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 application process

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

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.

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 on 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.

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.

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 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. 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. You will need to enquire at the Embassy that is processing your application as to whether premium processing is available.

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.