BusinessWeek featured an excellent story about O1 visas, often known as the Genius visas. While the spotlight is now on H1B visas or the debate on Immigration Reform, it is important to cover this important and often overlooked visa.
O1 visas are awarded to immigrants with extraordinary abilities in the arts, sciences, education, business, or athletics. The program, for what are officially called O-1 visas, began in 1990 as lawmakers sought to separate these applicants from the pool of those seeking H-1B visas, the visa program for skilled immigrants used by many technology companies. While H-1B applicants must hold at least a bachelor’s degree and possess some specialized skill, O-1 visas are allotted to a more elite crowd: those who can prove to U.S. immigration officials that they are the very top in their fields.
According to the U.S. State Dept.—which makes the grants to successful applicants—9,014 O-1s were awarded in 2008, up 40% from 2004. Among current O-1 visa holders are Dallas Mavericks forward Dirk Nowitzki, Canadian author Jennifer Gould Keil, Israeli concert pianist Inon Barnatan, and members of the New York dance companies Merce Cunningham and Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane.