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O-1 Visa: Individuals with Extraordinary Ability or Achievement

Who may be eligible for O-1 visa?

You may be eligible for an O-1 nonimmigrant visa, if you posses extraordinary ability in science, business, education or athletics and have been recognized nationally or internationally for those achievements. You may also be eligible if you possess extraordinary ability in the arts or have attained extraordinary achievement in the motion picture or television industry.

The O nonimmigrant classification is broken down as follows:

  • O-1A: individuals with an extraordinary ability in the sciences, arts, education, business, or athletics
  • O-1B: individuals with an extraordinary achievement in motion picture or television industry
  • O-2: individuals who will assist an O-1, using critical skills or experience not of a general nature. For an O-1A, the O-2’s assistance must be an “integral part” of the O-1’s activities. For an O-1B, the O-2’s assistance must be “essential” to completion of the O-1’s production.
  • O-3: individuals who are the spouse or children of O-1’s and O-2’s

What are the Eligibility Criteria?

  • For an O-1A visa, you must demonstrate your extraordinary ability in the sciences, arts, education, business, or athletics by sustained national or international acclaim and you must be coming temporarily to the United States to continue work in the area of extraordinary ability. Extraordinary ability is a level of expertise and recognition that shows a high level of achievement, or that you are one of few who have risen to the very top of your field.
  • For an O-1B visa, you must demonstrate extraordinary achievement in the motion picture and/ or television productions by a very high level record of achievement, and you must be coming temporarily to the United States to continue work in the area of extraordinary achievement. Extraordinary achievement is a degree of skill and recognition significantly above the ordinary; outstanding, notable or leading in the motion picture and/or television industry.

What is the Application Process for O-1A?

The O-1A visa requires your sponsoring employer or agent, also known as a petitioner, to submit a petition on your behalf. The petitioner should file Form I-129, Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker (see the “Form I-129, Petition for Nonimmigrant Worker” link to the right) with the USCIS office listed on the form instructions. The petitioner may not file the Form I-129 more than one year before the O nonimmigrant will begin employment. To avoid delays, the Form I-129 should be filed at least 45 days before the date of employment.

The petitioner must submit with the Form I-129 the following documentary evidence:

  • A written advisory opinion from a peer group (including labor organizations) or a person designated by the group with expertise in your area of ability
  • A copy of any written contract between you and the petitioner or a summary of the terms of the oral agreement under which you will be employed
  • An explanation of the nature of the events or activities, the beginning and ending dates for the events or activities, and a copy of any itinerary for the events or activities
  • Evidence that you have received a major, internationally-recognized award, such as a Nobel Prize, or evidence of at least three of the following:
  1. Receipt of nationally or internationally recognized prizes or awards for excellence in the field of endeavor
  2. Membership in associations in the field for which classification is sought which require outstanding achievements, as judged by recognized international experts
  3. Published material in professional or major trade publications, newspapers or other major media about you and your work in the field for which classification is sought
  4. Original scientific, scholarly, or business-related contributions of major significance in the field
  5. Authorship of scholarly articles in professional journals or other major media in the field for which classification is sought
  6. A high salary or other remuneration for services as evidenced by contracts or other reliable evidence
  7. Participation on a panel, or individually, as a judge of the work of others in the same or in a field of specialization allied to that field for which classification is sought
  8. Employment in a critical or essential capacity for organizations and establishments that have a distinguished reputation
  9. If the above standards do not readily apply to your occupation, the petitioner may submit comparable evidence in order to establish your eligibility

What is the Application Process for O-1B?

The O-1B visa category requires your sponsoring employer or agent, also known as the petitioner, to submit a petition on your behalf. The petitioner should file Form I-129, Petition for Nonimmigrant Worker, (see the “Form I-129, Petition for Nonimmigrant Worker” link to the right) with the USCIS office listed on the form instructions. The petitioner may not file the Form I-129 more than one year before the O nonimmigrant will begin employment. To avoid delays, the Form I-129 should be filed at least 45 days before the date of employment.

The petitioner must submit with the Form I-129 the following documentary evidence:

A written advisory opinion, describing your ability as follows:

  1. If the petition is based on your extraordinary ability in the arts, the consultation must be from a peer group (including labor organizations) in your field of endeavor; or a person or persons designated by the group with expertise in the your area of ability
  2. If the petition is based on your extraordinary achievements in the motion picture or television industry, separate consultations are required from a labor and a management organization with expertise in your field of endeavor
  3. A copy of any written contract between you and the petitioner or a summary of the terms of the oral agreement under which you will be employed
  4. Evidence that you have received, or been nominated for, significant national or international awards or prizes in the particular field, such as an Academy Award, Emmy, Grammy or Director’s Guild Award, or evidence of at least three of the following:
  1. Performed or will perform services as a lead or starring participant in productions or events which have a distinguished reputation as evidenced by critical reviews, advertisements, publicity releases, publications, contracts or endorsements
  2. Achieved national or international recognition for achievements, as shown by critical reviews or other published materials by or about you in major newspapers, trade journals, magazines, or other publications
  3. A record of major commercial or critically acclaimed successes, as shown by such indicators as title, rating or standing in the field, box office receipts, motion picture or television ratings and other occupational achievements reported in trade journals, major newspapers or other publications
  4. Received significant recognition for achievements from organizations, critics, government agencies or other recognized experts in the field in which you are engaged, with the testimonials clearly indicating the author’s authority, expertise and knowledge of the alien’s achievements
  5. A high salary or other substantial remuneration for services in relation to others in the field, as shown by contracts or other reliable evidence

What is the Period of Stay/Extension of Stay?

Initial Period of stay is granted up to 3 years. In the event of extension of stay, USCIS will determine time necessary to accomplish the event or activity and shall accordingly grant extension in increments of up to 1 year.

As an O-1 nonimmigrant, you may be admitted to the United States for the validity period of the petition, plus a period of up to 10 days before the validity period begins and 10 days after the validity period ends. You may only engage in employment during the validity period of the petition.

What is the procedure for Extension of Stay?

The petitioner must request an extension of stay to continue or complete the same event or activity or to complete a new activity by filing the following documentation with USCIS:

  • Form I-129, Petition for Nonimmigrant Worker
  • A copy of your Form I-94, Arrival/ Departure Record
  • A letter from the petitioner explaining the reasons for the extension.

The petitioner must also request an extension of the petition, but this does not require any additional documentation.

Your spouse and children must file Form I-539, Application to Extend/Change Nonimmigrant Status, and submit any supporting documents to extend their stay.

Are dependants of O-1 and O-2 Visa Holders eligible for dependant status?

Any accompanying or following to join spouse and children under the age of 21 may be eligible to apply for an O-3 nonimmigrant visa, subject to the same period of admission and limitations as the O-1 nonimmigrant. They may not work in the United States under this classification, but they may engage in full or part time study on an O-3 visa.

Can O-1 Visa holders Change Employers?

If you are an O-1 nonimmigrant in the United States and you want to change employers, then your new employer must file a Form I-129 with the USCIS office listed on the form instructions.

If the petition was filed by an agent, an amended petition must be filed with evidence relating to the new employer and a request for an extension of stay.

Note: There are special rule for athletes. When professional athletes with O-1 nonimmigrant status are traded from one team to another, employment authorization will continue with the new team for 30 days during which time the new employer must file a new Form I-129. The simple act of filing the Form I-129, within this 30-day period, extends the employment authorization at least until the petition is adjudicated. If the new employer does not file a new Form I-129 within 30 days of the trade, the athlete loses his or her employment authorization. The athlete also loses his or her employment authorization if the new Form I-129 is denied.

Return Transportation

If your employment as an O nonimmigrant beneficiary is terminated for reasons other than voluntary resignation, your employer must pay for the reasonable cost of your return transportation to your last place of residence before entering into the United States. If an agent filed the petition for your employer, the agent and the employer are equally responsible for paying these costs.

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