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O-1 Extraordinary Ability

The O-1 visa provides nonimmigrant status to a wide range of talented and acclaimed foreign nationals to work and live in the United States. It is a flexible alternative to other visa categories that have strict education and compensation requirements. The O-1 can accommodate a variety of work arrangements including independent contractor engagements. The O petition may be approved for up to three years, and extensions may be granted indefinitely depending on the activity. There is no annual numerical limit on the number of O visas issued.

General Requirements

The O-1 classification is appropriate for foreign nationals who have “extraordinary ability” in a field of endeavor. The field can include science, education, business, athletics, art, or motion picture and television. USCIS groups the O-1 classification into two categories based on the field of endeavor. The evidence required are different for each category.

  • O-1A: This is for individuals with extraordinary ability in the field of science, education, business, or athletics.
  • O-1B: This is for individuals with extraordinary ability in the field of art or motion picture and television.

Different Standards for Extraordinary Ability

O-1A and O-1B have different meanings for “extraordinary ability”. For O-1A, the term means “one of the small percentage who have arisen to the very top of the field of endeavor”. This is the same wording as the extraordinary ability standard for EB-1A permanent residence. Foreign nationals working in motion picture and television (O-1B) is subject to a lower standard of “a degree of skill and recognition significantly above that ordinarily encountered”. Those in the arts (O-1B) are subject to the lowest standard of having achieved “distinction” in his or her endeavor. Therefore, the O-1B category is generally easier to qualify for.

O-1A Requirements

Eligibility for O-1A can be established with evidence of major internationally recognized prizes or awards for excellence in the field of endeavor (e.g., Nobel Prize, major league MVP, etc.). Alternatively, one may establish eligibility by submitting at least three (3) of the following types of evidence:

  • Evidence that the alien received nationally or internationally recognized prize or awards for excellence in the field of endeavor;
  • Evidence that the alien holds membership in a professional industry association which require outstanding achievement of their members;
  • Publications in professional or major trade publications or major media about the alien’s work or achievements;
  • Evidence that the alien served as a judge of the work of others in the same or allied field either individually or as a member of a panel;
  • Evidence of the alien’s Authorship of original scientific, scholarly, or business-related contributions of major significance in the field;
  • Evidence that the alien is or was employed in a critical or essential capacity for organizations and establishments that have a distinguished reputation; and
  • Evidence that the alien has either commanded or will command a high salary or other remuneration for services.

O-1B Requirements

Eligibility under this category can be established by evidence that the alien has been nominated for and/or received significant national or international awards or prizes in a particular field such as an Academy Award, an Emmy, a Grammy, or a Director’s Guild Award.

Alternatively, eligibility can be established by submitting at least three (3) of the following types of evidence:

  • Evidence that the alien has performed, and will perform, services as a lead or starring participant in productions or events which have a distinguished reputation;
  • Evidence that the alien has achieved national or international recognition for his or her artistic work;
  • Evidence that the alien has performed, and will perform, in a leading, starring, or critical role for organizations and establishments that have a distinguished reputation;
  • Evidence that the alien has a record of major commercial or critically acclaimed successes;
  • Evidence of significant recognition for achievements from organizations, critics, government agencies, or other recognized experts in the field;
  • Evidence that the alien has either commanded a high salary or will command a high salary or other substantial remuneration for services in relation to others in the field.

Application Process

An O-1 petition may be filed by a U.S. employer or a U.S. agent. An employer should be an established business, with an official business address, and actively conducting business in the United States. If the alien wish to work for more than one employer, each employer must file a separate petition. Alternatively, an agent can file a single petition for the alien to work with multiple employers. An agent petition is often an option for fields where workers are traditionally self-employed (e.g., photographers, designers, musicians).

The O-1 employer or agent files a Form I-129 Petition for Nonimmigrant Worker with O Supplement with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) along with supporting documents establishing eligibility. The O-1 petition can be processed relatively quickly through the premium processing service offered by USCIS.

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