The O Visa for Aliens of Extraordinary Ability

Employment-Based Immigration

The O-1 nonimmigrant visa is a temporary nonimmigrant employment visa designed for people with extraordinary ability in the sciences, art, education, business, or athletics or in the motion picture or television industry. As a beneficiary, you must have critical skills and experience and you must have received national or international recognition.

Who Can File the O Petition?

You cannot file your own O petition. Instead, a US employer or agent in your field must file an O petition with the US Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) on your behalf. A university or a Hollywood studio, for example, might file a petition on your behalf, depending on the area of your expertise. If you are a motion picture director, however, a chemistry laboratory cannot hire you, because it is not an employer within your field of expertise.

Employer Documentation

If your O-1 sponsor is a US corporation, your sponsor must provide the USCIS with details about the corporation to prove it is legitimate– a copy of its articles of incorporation and bylaws, for example, its date of formation and number of employees, its IRS tax ID number, its annual revenues, and other information and documentation.

Your sponsor must also prove that they have actually hired you for the position. A signed employment contract is useful for this purpose; however, you can also provide proof of an oral agreement as long as it does not violate the Statute of Frauds. Whatever evidence your sponsor offers, it must include the wages and other basic contractual terms.

Evidence of Extraordinary Ability

You must present evidence of your extraordinary ability. O status is divided into two classifications–the O-1A and the O-1B.

The O-1A (Extraordinary Ability in the Sciences, Education, Business or Athletics)

To establish your extraordinary ability in the sciences, education, business, or athletics, you must submit three of the following types of evidence:

  • National or international awards for excellence related to your field of endeavor.
  • Membership in associations in the field for which you seek O status, that require outstanding achievements (such as the National Academy of Sciences).
  • Evidence of your participation on a panel or as a judge of the work of others in your field.
  • Articles about your work are published in recognized national or international media, journals, or major trade publications.
  • Evidence of original scientific, scholarly, or business-related contributions.
  • Authorship of scholarly articles in professional journals;
  • A high salary; or
  • Evidence that you have worked in a critical or essential capacity for organizations that enjoy a distinguished reputation for excellence in the field (a professor at a prestigious university, for example).

The O-1B (A Demonstrated Record of Extraordinary Achievement or Ability in the Field of Arts, Motion Pictures or Television)

To establish your extraordinary ability in art, motion pictures, or television, you must have won a major award such as an Oscar, or submit at least three of the following types of evidence:

  • Evidence that you played a leading role in a specific event or performance, production, organization, or establishment (as a star in a Broadway play, for example).
  • Evidence of sustained national or international acclaim or awards for extraordinary achievements in your field of endeavor.
  • Evidence that you have achieved either commercial or critical success to the extent that you are leading or well-known in the field of arts.
  • Recognition of your achievements by experts or government agencies.
  • Evidence of a high level of compensation for your work.

The Advisory Opinion Letter

One critically important item of supporting documentation is the advisory opinion. An advisory opinion letter must be issued by a nationally or internationally recognized professional peer group or consulting entity. It must confirm your extraordinary ability in science, education, business, or athletics (O-1A) or in art, motion pictures, or television (O-1B). The exact contents of the letter, and the organization that must write it, depends on your basis for seeking an O visa.

Comparing Other Visa Options

The O visa can be difficult to obtain because not many people qualify under its “extraordinary ability” requirements. If you do not qualify, or if you fear that you might not qualify, certain other visas offer similar benefits to the O-1 visa. In some cases, another type of visa might even be a superior option. The H-1B and the L-1 visas are both popular options.

The H-1B Visa

The major disadvantage of the H-1B visa is that it is subject to an annual quota on the number of visas issued, and the number of applicants typically far exceeds the quota. Certain exemptions to the quota exist, however, for organizations such as universities and certain nonprofits.

The major advantage of the H-1B visa is that you do not have to possess extraordinary ability to qualify for it. You do, however, need a bachelor’s degree or its equivalent. If you want to change jobs while in H-1B, in many cases your new employer can file a new H-1B petition on your behalf and you can start working as soon as the petition is filed (without waiting for approval from the USCIS). You can smoothly transition from ah H-1B to a green card.

The L-1 Visa

The L-1 intracompany transferee visa allows you to transfer to the US from an affiliated company located outside of the US. You do not need extraordinary ability, but you do need to be an executive, manager, or business owner in most cases. One advantage of the L-1 over the H-1B is that the L-1 is not subject to any kind of quota on the number of visas issued every year. Like the H-1B, there is no legal barrier to obtaining a green card directly from L-1 status.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

How long can O visa holders stay in the U.S.?

The initial O visa period of stay allows visa holders to stay for up to three years, plus 10 days before and after this period to help transition into and out of the United States. Depending on the length of our event or activity, your O-1 status may be granted for a shorter period. As long as the need for your services continues, your sponsor can continue applying for an indefinite number of extensions in one-year increments.

What are the benefits of an O visa?

The O visa offers a number of benefits, a few of which are listed below:

  • The processing time for an O visa is among the shortest of all employment-based visas, although it can vary from case to case.
  • You can bring your family (spouse and children under 21 years old) with you to the United States on an O-3 visa.
  • The USCIS Premium Processing service, which can expedite visa processing to about two weeks, is always available for the O visa. The same cannot be said for many other immigration statuses.
  • There is no “hard” limit on the total amount of time (including extensions) that a visa holder can spend in the United States in O status. Compare that with the H-1B, which is normally subject to a six-year limit.
  • Under most circumstances, a visa holder can travel in and out of the US freely. You might want to seek legal advice if you intend to travel outside of the United States while an application for permanent residence is pending, however.

How long does it take to process an O visa?

Generally speaking, it takes three or four months to process an O petition, which makes it faster than similar visas such as the L or the H-1B. There is no guarantee, however–a lot depends on the workload of the individual USCIS Service Center where your petition is submitted.

If you select Premium Processing, you pay a fee of $2,500 and the USCIS will process your application within 15 calendar days or refund your Premium Processing fee.

What is an O-2 Visa?

The O-2 visa is for people who accompany an O-1 artist or athlete to assist them in a specific event or performance.

What Does the Attorney Fee Cover?

An immigration attorney can help you with the following matters:

  • Advising you on your likelihood of success, and inform you about other options in case your O petition is rejected.
  • Providing attorney’s tips for O visa applicants, so that you do not commit one of the many possible pitfalls that could result in the rejection of your O visa petition.
  • Helping you gather all evidence and supporting documentation, and help you decide what’s relevant and what’s not.
  • Preparing Form I-129 (to be filed by your employer) and supporting documentation. Your attorney may need to draft portions of your advisory opinion letter, for example, to make sure that it addresses issues that are important to the USCIS.
  • Helping you file Form DS-160 with the US State Department.
  • Coaching you for your visa interview.
  • Helping you apply for another visa, such as the H-1B, if your O visa petition is rejected.
  • Assisting you in applying for O visa extensions in one-year increments.
  • Helping you apply for a green card, hopefully without the need to leave the United States between the time you obtain O status and the time that you obtain a green card.

Unfortunately, no immigration attorney can guarantee that a visa petition will be approved. A skilled attorney can, however, guarantee to maximize the odds that your application will be successful.

Talk to an Immigration Attorney Today!

The O visa, with all of its advantages, is not easy to qualify for. A lot depends on how you present yourself to US immigration authorities, however. An experienced Immigration lawyer will know how to gather just the right evidence and present your qualifications in just the right way. They should also be able to counsel you on possible alternatives to the O visa that you might consider.

Don’t wait until you run into the difficulty to seek professional legal assistance. Contact the Herman Legal Group, LLC at 1-216-696-6170, or simply complete our online contact form to schedule a consultation where we can evaluate your case.

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