O-1 Visa

An O-1 non-immigrant visa is appropriate for foreign national persons of extraordinary ability or achievement who wish to come to the United States to work in their field of expertise. This visa is useful for artists, athletes, business persons, educators, entertainers, scientists and other people who can demonstrate sustained national or international acclaim and who can document their achievements. For those who qualify, an O-1 visa can be a valuable alternative to other temporary work-authorized visas.

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (CIS) defines “extraordinary ability” for scientists, educations, business persons and athletes as a level of expertise that places them among a small number of persons who have “risen to the very top in their field of endeavor.” Extraordinary ability must be proven by providing the CIS with evidence either that the foreign national has received a major, internationally recognized award, such as the Nobel Price, or by documenting qualifications in at least three of the following criteria:

  • Receipt of nationally or internationally recognized prizes/awards for excellence in the field;
  • Membership in associations in the field that require outstanding achievement of their members;
  • Published material in professional or major trade publications or major media about the foreign national;
  • Judgment of the work of others or participation on a panel judging the work of others in the same or allied field of specialization;
  • Original scientific, scholarly, or business-related contributions of major significance;
  • Authorship of scholarly articles in professional journals or other major media;
  • Current or previous employment in a critical or essential capacity by organizations that have a distinguished reputation; or
  • Remuneration for services at a level that exceeds normal/customary salaries in the field;
  • Other comparable evidence, if the foregoing standards are inapplicable.

The CIS characterizes “extraordinary ability” in the arts as “distinction” defined as “a high level of achievement in the field of arts evidenced by a degree of skill and recognition substantially above that ordinarily encountered” in the field. “Arts” include any field of creative activity or endeavor such as fine arts, visual arts, culinary arts as well as performing arts. In order to meet the standard of distinction in the arts, artists and entertainers must prove prominence in the field by showing receipt of or nomination for a significant national or international award or prize, such as an Academy Award, an Emmy, Grammy, or a Director’s Guild Award, or by documenting qualifications in at least three of the following criteria:

  • Performance as a lead in productions with distinguished reputations;
  • Critical reviews in newspapers or other relevant publications;
  • Performance in a lead or other critical role for organizations that have a distinguished reputation;
  • Record of major commercial or critically acclaimed success;
  • Significant recognition from organizations, critics, government agencies, or other recognized experts in the field; or
  • Other comparable evidence, if the foregoing standards are inapplicable.

For artists and entertainers in the motion picture or television productions industries the CIS, while relying on the criteria noted above, applies a higher standard in evaluating the evidence submitted. Motion picture/TV O-1 visa petitions must also be accompanied by written advisory opinions from the appropriate union and management groups. All other O-1 1 petitions must have a similar written advisory opinion from an appropriate union, if one exists.

O-1 visa holders must seek to enter the U.S. for the purpose of continuing work in their field of expertise, but the services provided in the U.S. need not be such that require O-1 caliber qualifications. O-1 visa holders need not maintain a foreign residence and may be accompanied by their spouses and children on O-3 visas.

O-2 visas are available for persons whose assistance is essential to the athletic or artistic performance by the O-1 artist or athlete. Accompanying assistants must possess critical skills and experience that cannot be performed by other persons. O-2 visa holders are required by the CIS to maintain a foreign residence which they have no intention of abandoning.

O-1 visa holders may work at multiple locations and may change employers, if a new employer files a new petition. O-2 visa holders may not change employers without the O-1 visa holder, however. The CIS may grant visas in the O category for an authorized period of stay in the U.S. up to three (3) years.