Fortunately, the O-1 visa is a “dual intent” visa, which means that if you qualify for a green card, you can transition from O-1 temporary worker status to permanent residence status without any interruption in your visa status and without having to leave the United States. Several options might be available, depending on your personal circumstances and the nature of your expertise. Following is a brief description of some of these options.
The EB-1A “Alien of Extraordinary Ability” Green Card
The requirements for this type of EB-1 visa are similar to the requirements for an O-1 visa; however, the qualifications are even more stringent. Simply qualifying for an O-1 visa does not guarantee that you will qualify. It’s like raising a pole vault by two feet — you still have to vault over the bar, but it’s a lot more difficult to do. Furthermore, based on recent policy changes, your EB-1 application will be evaluated solely on its own merits — your previous O-1 acceptance will not matter much, if at all.
On the bright side, there is no waiting period for the EB-1A (immigration visas are “current.”). Additionally, you can petition for this status yourself, without the help of an employer.
The EB-1B “Outstanding Researcher or Professor” Green Card
To obtain permanent residence under the EB-1B category, you must:
- Enjoy outstanding international recognition in a particular academic field; and
- Possess at least three years of experience teaching or researching in the area in which you excel.
You must be coming to the US to work in a tenured or tenure-track teaching position at an institute of higher education; or in a comparable research position at an institute of higher education. You may also be coming to the US to take a comparable research position with a private employer that meets certain qualifications. The level of distinction required to obtain EB-1B status is somewhat lower than the level required for EB-1A status.
EB-1B visas are also considered “current”, and you can also apply on your own without the help of an employer.
The National Interest Waiver Green Card
National Interest Waiver (EB2-NIW) status for persons of exceptional ability or professionals holding advanced degrees, and it is easier to obtain than EB-1A or EB-1B status if your possess expertise or an advanced degree in the arts, sciences or business. The EB-2 visa normally requires a job offer and labor certification, but these requirements are waived for the National Interest Waiver visa. The waiver applies if your presence in the US will substantially benefit the national economy, cultural or educational interests of the United States.
NIW status is also considered “current”, and you can also apply without the help of an employer.
You are not limited to applying for only one visa status at the same time — you may apply for any two of the foregoing three visa statuses at the same time, as long as you meet the qualifications for both of them. The paperwork burden can be heavy in this situation, however, and it is easy to make a mistake that could delay processing or even jeopardize your application — checking more than one category on a single Form I-140, for example.
The Path to Citizenship
Once you obtain permanent residence, you will be in a position to eventually obtain US citizenship if you so choose, by filing Form N-400. Of course, you are not required to apply for citizenship — you can stay in the US indefinitely on permanent resident status. After five years, however, you can apply for naturalized citizenship. Most applicants find the citizenship application to be far less fraught with uncertainty than either the O-1 or permanent residence application process.