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The Complete Guide to the O-1 Visa Process

Table of Contents

The U.S. grants special entry to individuals who are extraordinary in their fields. This is done through the O-1 visa. Under this visa, highly skilled individuals can apply to share and improve their talents during their stay in the U.S. 

The O-1 visa requirements make it one of the most difficult visas to attain. It pays to know the nature of its requirements and filing process, so applicants can make informed decisions when applying.

1. What Is the O-1 Visa?

The O-1 visa is a working visa granted to nonimmigrants who are extraordinary in science, business, athletics, arts, television, and motion picture. 

There are two categories for this visa: O-1A and O-1B. The O-1A is for exceptional scientists, educators, athletes, and business-related persons. They must have a level of expertise that sets them apart from others, making them belong to the special few at the top of their field. The O-1B is for people who, after sustained international or national recognition for their skills, have become a leading figure in the areas of arts, television, or motion picture industry. 

There are instances when O-1 holders will need the indispensable assistance or company of other foreign individuals to conduct their mission in the U.S. In this case, the accompanying individuals will be granted an O-2 visa. The O-2 holder must have skills and experience in working alongside the O-1 holder.

The O-1 visa, like the H-1 or L-1, is a dual intent visa. Those with this visa are free to adjust their status to permanent residence without jeopardizing their visa validity. It also allows their spouse or children to legally stay in the U.S. under an O-3 visa.

2. Eligibility Requirements for O-1 Visa

Applicants must first prove their eligibility before their petition is processed. The USCIS automatically recognizes irrefutable international awards such as the Pulitzer Prize or Grammy Awards. However, since not everyone qualified doesn’t necessarily have to have received such awards, they’ve set other criteria. The petitioners must send evidence for at least three of the following:

3. O-1A (Sciences, Education, Business, or Athletics)

  • Nationally or internationally acclaimed awards
  • Membership in an organization consisting of highly esteemed individuals in their field
  • Publications detailing the beneficiary’s profession and achievements 
  • Being a panel or judge of other specialists in their field 
  • Scientific, scholarly, or business-related significant contributions to their field
  • Authorship of journals, scholarly articles, and other professional publications related to their field
  • Employment in a critical or essential position in reputable organizations or establishments 
  • High income indicating a high level of skill 

4. O-1B (Arts, Television, or Motion Picture)

  • Nationally or internationally acclaimed awards
  • Past or future performance in a lead or starring role for a major event or production
  • Past or future performance in a lead, starring, or critical role for reputable organizations or establishments 
  • Record of critical acclaim or commercial success in their field
  • Recognition from reputable organizations, government agencies, critics, or other specialists in their field
  • Possession of high salary as a result of major involvement in their field

Take note that the above-mentioned criteria list isn’t exhaustive. The USCIS may seek other forms of evidence if the initial eligibility requirements don’t apply to the applicant’s field of expertise. The applicant must justify why the criteria don’t apply to them. Then, they should submit alternate evidentiary documents and explain why these are comparable to the ones listed above. 

Satisfying the required evidentiary documents doesn’t immediately qualify the applicant for an O-1 visa. Once the evidentiary requirements are met, the USCIS must then evaluate the totality of the submitted documents to determine if the applicant is indeed extraordinary in their field. 

5. Steps in the O-1 Visa Process

  1. Filing the Petition

The agent, employer, or an authorized representative must file Form I-129 on the applicant’s behalf. If the applicant has multiple employers, each must submit a different petition. The petition must be filed at least 45 days but not more than one year before the applicant starts working in the U.S.  

  1. Documentation

The USCIS requires the following documents to be filed with the petition:

  • Evidence required for the applicant’s O-1 visa category;
  • Copies of the contracts between the applicant and employer. In the absence of this, they may submit a written summary of the oral agreement;
  • A description of the applicant’s nature of work, and an itinerary of the events and activities; and
  • A written advisory opinion from reputable individuals or organizations relevant to the applicant’s field of expertise

The documents must conform to the following formats:

  • Affidavits, contracts, awards, and other documents must indicate the applicant’s level of achievement and expertise. They must be written by authorized individuals employed at the organization or institution where the applicant demonstrated their extraordinary ability.
  • The affidavits written by recognized individuals who attest to the applicant’s expertise and achievements must contain a detailed, factual account of the applicant’s skills and achievements. The affidavits should also describe how the information was acquired and list the qualifications of the one who wrote it.
  • Supporting evidence must be legible photocopies unless required by the USCIS to be original.
  1. Consultation

The consultation must come in the form of an advisory opinion. It must be written by distinguished organizations, agencies, or peer groups relevant to the beneficiary’s field of expertise. The USCIS has a list of such organizations that provide consultations to O-1 petitioners.

The content of the advisory opinion varies per O-1 category. Here‘s what’s included for each:

O-1A (Sciences, Education, Business, or Athletics) & O-1B (Arts)

  • A detailed description of the applicant’s skills and achievements in their area of expertise; and
  • Why the work or activity must be endeavored by the applicant or that the organization has no objections

O-1B (Motion Picture and Television)

  • An explanation of why the applicant is a leading figure in the television or motion picture industry. They may go into detail about the awards bestowed to the applicant; and
  • Why the position must be taken by the applicant, or that the organization has no objections

While the consultation is required for all O visa applications, the USCIS has set an exception. If the petitioner proves that no appropriate organization can provide an advisory opinion, the USCIS will refer to supporting documents to make their decision.

6. O-1 Visa Application Fees

  • Petition Filing Fee: $460
  • DS-160 (only when undergoing consular processing): $190
  • USCIS Premium Processing Fee (optional): $2,500 

The petition filing fee is paid every time a new petition is made. The above fees must be handled by the employer, except for the premium processing fee, which may be handled by either employer or applicant. 

7. FAQs

  • Q. How Long Does It Take to Get an O-1 Visa?
    • A. Processing time can take up to 6 months. This may vary depending on which service center the petition is being processed. If employers or applicants choose premium processing, this can shorten the processing time to 15 days.
  • Q. How Do I Get An O-1 Visa Sponsor?
    • A. The O-1 visa is a working visa, so O-1 applicants can’t self-sponsor. They must instead find a sponsor—usually their employers or agents—to file the petition. As such, the best way to get an O-1 visa sponsor is to find employers who are hiring workers related to their field of expertise.
    • The O-1 applicant may also hire an immigration agent. The agent can act as a sponsor as well as arrange short-term employment for applicants. Looking for agents is also the best way to find an O-1 visa sponsor if the applicant is planning to be self-employed.
  • Q. What Are the Benefits of an O-1 Visa?
    • A. There are several benefits to this visa. The first one is its dual-intent nature. O-1 holders can file a petition for permanent residency without risking their visa status. The second one is that it has no annual cap. Unlike with H-1, visas of O-1 applicants become effective the moment their petition is approved. Further, the O-1 visa isn’t bound by the employment restrictions set by the Labor Condition Application. 
  • Q. How Long Is the Validity Period of the O-1 Visa?
    • A. The O-1 visa has an initial validity period of three years. However, it can be extended for up to one year at a time until the holder fulfills their purpose in the U.S. There’s no maximum validity of stay for O-1 applicants and no limit to the number of extensions that can be granted to them.

8. Additional Resources

The USCIS has established a high bar for those aspiring to be O-1 visa holders. They’ve made recent changes to the O-1 visa requirements that made acquiring it even more difficult. And while there are written guidelines for O-1 eligibility, they’re considered to be highly subjective. This highlights the importance for O-1 applicants to have the legal assistance of an immigration attorney.

If you’re aiming to get an O-1 visa, Ramchand & Raval has qualified immigration lawyers who can guide you through the hurdles of petitioning for this much-coveted visa. With their expertise, they can assess your case and recommend simple yet effective steps to take. They will also ensure the complete and proper filing of your application—helping you reach your dream of attaining the O-1 visa.

Take advantage of our firm’s services. Schedule your consultation today.

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