Your Ultimate Guide to the O-1 Extraordinary Ability Visa

Are you at the top of your field in the arts, sciences, education, business, or sports? Do you need to travel to the United States for your work?

The O-1 visa allows people with extraordinary abilities to work in the U.S. for a temporary time. But to get the O-1 visa, you must prove your extraordinary ability in some way.

So what do you do when you don’t have an award like an Oscar or Grammy?

The immigration process can be complex and stressful. You want to put your best face forward. At Sapochnick Law we know what you need to file an application with the greatest chance of success. Call us at 619.819.9204 and let’s get started.

Benefits of the O-1 Visa

The O-1 visa comes with many advantages. One benefit is you can apply for an O-1 visa and a green card at the same time. So if you hope to settle permanently in the United States in the future, an O-1 visa won’t affect your plans.

When applying for an O-1 visa:

  • The process is fairly quick
  • You don’t need to keep a foreign residence
  • You don’t have to show intent to return to your home country
  • You can keep “dual intent” with an application for permanent residency

As long as your O-1 visa is valid:

  • You can work in the U.S. in your visa-related field
  • You can travel freely in and out of the U.S.
  • Your assistants can join you with O-2 visas
  • Your spouse and family can join you with O-3 visas
  • Your children or other dependents can go to school

The O-1 visa lasts for three years and is open to unlimited extensions as long as your work continues. Each extension renews your visa for another year.

How to Apply

Unfortunately, you can’t file for an O-1 visa on your own. Someone must file a petition for you. They must complete Form I-129 and file the petition with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

This can be done by a U.S. employer, business manager, agent, or citizen. If you have multiple employers, they must file separate petitions or an agent can petition for them together.

Once the petition is approved, you can apply for an O-1 visa at a U.S. embassy or consulate.

O-1 Visa Types and Criteria

O-1A Visa: Science, Education, Business, and Athletics

To qualify for an O-1A visa, you have to show national or international acclaim and recognition in your field. How do you prove acclaim?

For evidence, you could show:

  • Major awards such as the Nobel Prize
  • Membership in a group that requires outstanding achievement
  • Media and published articles about you and your work
  • Articles you’ve written in professional publications
  • A critical job position in a distinguished organization
  • A high salary or compensation for your services

If none of these apply to your field of work, you can still provide “comparable evidence.” But what does that mean exactly? That depends on your industry. An immigration lawyer will know where to look and what type of documentation to ask for.

O-1B Visa: The Arts, Motion Picture and Television Industry

USCIS defines “the arts” broadly and includes nearly any form of creative activity.

The O-1B visa applies to both traditional artists and people essential to the creative process, including but not limited to:

  • Fine, visual, culinary, and performing artists
  • Directors, choreographers, and conductors
  • Set, lighting, and sound designers
  • Costume designers, makeup artists, and stage technicians

Like the O-1A visa, you must show distinction in your field.

For evidence, you could show:

  • Major awards or prizes in your field, such as an Emmy or DGA
  • A lead or starring role in a distinguished production
  • Critical reviews or other published materials about you in major media outlets
  • Significant recognition from reputable organizations or critics in your field
  • A high salary or compensation for your services
  • Record or major commercial or critical success according to ratings

For those of us who aren’t superstars, O-1 visa application requirements have a lot of gray area. What qualifies as a major commercial success? Which publishers and media outlets are acceptable? How high a salary is high enough?

Our experienced attorneys have seen many of these applications. Our expertise comes from knowing what works and what doesn’t. We’ll point you in the right direction.

O-2 Visa: Assistants

The O-2 visa is for people who will accompany and assist the O-1 visa holder with their work. An O-2 visa is only an option for the athletics, arts, motion picture, and television industries. You cannot apply for an O-2 visa in the sciences, education, or business fields.

O-2 Visa Requirements

  • For athletics and the arts, the assistant must be an “integral part” of the performance
  • For motion picture and TV, the assistant must be “essential” to the production
  • The O-2 worker must have skills and experience with the O-1 holder that cannot be performed by a U.S. worker
  • An O-2 worker cannot work for anyone but the O-1 visa holder 
  • The assistant must not work “separate and apart” from the O-1 visa holder

O-2 visas have the same process as O-1 visas. An employer or another U.S. agent must petition for you and complete Form I-129.

O-3 Visa: Spouse and Children

If you’re coming to the U.S. to work under an O-1 or O-2 visa, you could be here for years. Fortunately, you can petition for your family to join you. Although they can’t work under this visa, O-3 visa holders can study part- or full-time.

Your family can apply for an O-3 visa at the same time you apply for the O-1. However, if you file for your O-1 visa first, you must wait until it’s approved before your family can apply for the O-3.

To apply, you must file Form DS-160 and pay the visa fees.

Filing Your O-1 Visa Petition

Our location near Los Angeles gives us unique insight into the entertainment industry. We know the complex requirements of extraordinary ability visas, especially for creatives.

An O-1 visa is just one part of your immigration journey. Your needs could change depending on your work and family situation. That’s why it’s crucial to talk with an immigration lawyer you trust. At Sapochnick Law we’ll analyze your credentials and develop a plan to achieve your immigration goals. 

Call us today at 619.819.9204 and let’s get organized.

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