O-1 visas are granted to foreign nationals who have reached the top of their professional fields through extraordinary ability or high achievements. Such areas are either the sciences, education, business, athletics, or the arts, such as music, film, television, and theater. The O-1 visa is one of the best U.S. work visas to apply for if you have extraordinary abilities and want to come to the United States.
Having an O-1 visa allows these highly skilled and accomplished individuals to temporarily work in their area of expertise within the U.S. in three years increments, though the beneficiaries are eligible for unlimited visa renewals.
To qualify for an O-1 visa, applicants must demonstrate their extraordinary ability through a high level of achievement, recognition and acclaim in their field. This typically requires substantial documentation, such as awards, publications, performances, or other forms of recognition.
As the O-1 category requires a sponsoring employer, U.S.-based employers must generally file the visa petition on behalf of the applicant. The visa is granted for an initial period of up to three years and can be extended in one-year increments as long as the individual continues to work in their area of expertise.
What is an O-1 Visa?
The O-1A visa, designed for individuals possessing exceptional talents, is often regarded as one of the most favorable work visas for the United States. Surprisingly, only a small number of foreign nationals consider applying. Though the criteria for the O-1 visa is daunting and perplexing, especially when it is otherwise known as the visa for genuses, more people qualify than they think.
It is a category designed for individuals possessing extraordinary abilities or achievements in their professional fields, and allows them to live and work indefinitely in the U.S. — so they may continue their endeavors in the United States.
The O-1 visa is for individuals with extraordinary abilities and is divided into two subcategories:
- The O-1A visa: Fields of science, education, business, and athletics.
- The O-1B visa: Fields of the arts, including music, film, television, theater, and other artistic endeavors.
O-1 Visa Qualification Requirements
The following are the two ways applicants can qualify for an O-1 visa:
- Supply evidence of receiving a major award, such as a Nobel Prize, Academy Award or a Grammy
- Meet three of the eight criteria for the Extraordinary Ability category
To qualify for an O-1 visa in the Extraordinary Ability category, applicants need to meet at least three out of the eight O-1 eligibility criteria listed by United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). These criteria are used to demonstrate exceptional qualifications in their respective fields.
Meeting at least three of these criteria is essential to establish eligibility for an O-1 Visa in the Extraordinary Ability category. Applicants should provide extensive documentation and evidence to support their claims of extraordinary ability in their respective fields. USCIS officers review this documentation during the visa application process.
The criteria are described below.
Receipt of a nationally or internationally recognized award or prize in the applicant’s field. Such awards must also be given to the individual for excellence in their field.
Membership in organizations or selective associations requiring outstanding achievements as a condition of membership. This can include startup business founders, technical and engineering societies.
Published material in professional or major trade publications or major media about the applicant and relating to their work in their professional field.
Judging or Reviewing the Work of Others
Judging others’ work, in the same or a related field, as a peer article reviewer or judging a competition on a panel or even as an individual.
Original scientific, scholarly, or business-related contributions of major significance in the field, especially in major trade publications or media sites. These articles must simply relate to the foreign national’s work, and how it was original and highly significant.
Authorship of scholarly articles in professional print and online journals, or other major media, which demonstrates a substantial contribution to the field through written work. Such published materials would be about the applicant in widely circulated news outlets, like Forbes, the New York Times and Nasdaq.
Work displayed at artistic exhibitions or showcases (nationally or internationally). Performance or a leading role in distinguished organizations or establishments in the individual’s field of profession
Employment in either a critical or essential capacity at a company with an eminent reputation. This can be a past role, or one the applicant is currently in.
Proof that the applicant has a high salary or has commanded any other significantly higher remuneration, especially than others in the same position.
Though some of the above criteria are overarching, the specifics which differentiate O-1A and O-1B visas are defined in more detail below.
O-1A Visa Eligibility
The O-1A Visa is designed for individuals with extraordinary abilities in the fields of science, education, business, or athletics. To be eligible for an O-1A Visa, an applicant must meet specific criteria and provide evidence of their exceptional qualifications in their respective field.
Firstly, the foreign national must prove he or she has extraordinary ability, which can be demonstrated by sustained national or international acclaim.
Secondly, the applicant must have achievements which have been recognized in their professional field through extensive documentation.
Thirdly, he or she must prove they are coming to the U.S. solely to continue working in their area of extraordinary ability.
The eligibility criteria documentation for the O-1A visa are as follows:
- Recognition and achievements, including awards, honors, publications, significant field contributions
- Membership in associations in the field for which classification is sought, which require outstanding achievements of their members
- Published material in professional or major trade publications or major media about the applicant
- Evidence of the beneficiary's participation on a panel, or as a judge of others’ work in the same field
- Evidence of the foreign national's original contributions of major significance in the field
- Evidence of the applicant’s authorship of scholarly articles in their professional field
- Evidence that he or she has been employed in a critical or essential capacity for an organization or establishment with a distinguished reputation
- Evidence that the beneficiary has commanded, or will command a high salary or other remuneration for their services
The O-1B Visa is designed for individuals with extraordinary abilities in the arts, including music, film, television, theater, as well as other major artistic endeavors. To be eligible for an O-1B visa, applicants must meet the specific criteria, and provide evidence of their exceptional qualifications in their artistic field.
Firstly, the foreign national must prove he or she has extraordinary ability in the arts, which can be demonstrated by sustained national or international acclaim.
Secondly, the applicant must have extensive documentation of achievements that have been recognized in their professional field.
Thirdly, he or she must prove they are coming to the U.S. solely to continue working in their area of extraordinary ability.
The eligibility criteria documentation for the O-1B visa are as follows:
- Evidence of past or future performances as a lead or starring participant in productions with distinguished reputation
- Achievements of national or international recognition
- Evidence of past or future performances as a lead, starring or critical role for organizations or establishments with distinguished reputation
- Records of major commercial or critically acclaimed accomplishments
- Evidence that the beneficiary has received significant recognition for achievements in their field from recognized experts such as critics, government agencies, or other organizations
- Evidence that the applicant has commanded or will command a high salary or other substantial remuneration for their services related in their professional field
O-1 Visa Fees
Applicants filing from inside the United States:
- Form I-129, Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker, paid by the applicant’s employer or agent
- Fee: $460
- Form I-907, Request for Premium Processing Service (optional)
- Fee:: $1,410
Applicants filing from outside the United States:
● DS-160 visa fees: $205
● If approved, visa issuance: $220 (if applicable)
The I-129 fee can be paid with a check or money order, made out to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Unless it is paid using a USCIS lockbox, which is done by using a credit card. This needs to be accompanied by submitting an Authorization for Credit Card Transactions (Form G-1450).
Important: Fees are subject to change by the U.S. government prior to case filing. Learn more here to see up-to-date USCIS fees.
O-1 Visa Processing Times
Processing times for Form I-129 at either of the U.S. Service Centers is about 1.5 months. This includes both California and Vermont. The most updated information can be found on the USCIS Processing times website.
Applying for an O-1 Visa
O-1 visa applicants cannot petition by themselves, as U.S.-based employers are required to file a Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker (Form I-129) upon their approval for O-1 sponsorship. The sponsor must also submit all supporting documents, highlighting how the foreign national meets the O-1 visa eligibility criteria. Additionally, this must be done no more than six months before the applicant will perform his or her services in the United States, though it must be 45 days or more beforehand.
Additional O-1 Documents
- Proof of the beneficiary’s extraordinary ability
- Form I-129
- Employment contract (in writing, or a written account of a verbal contract)
- An original copy of the advisory letter (especially one with a watermark)
- Evidence that the beneficiary will be working solely in an area of extraordinary ability job
In circumstances where the foreign national has entered the U.S. within the last two years, using an advisory letter, then the petitioner may submit a request to waive this requirement. Conversely, when there is no peer organization, and thus no advisory letter, the reviewing officer will adjudicate based on the I-129 and supporting evidence.
Note, unoriginal copies of the advisory letter will cause a delay in the petition process. The reviewing officer will more than likely issue a Request for Evidence (RFE). This will be the attempt to get the original advisory letter.
Advantages of the O-1A
Some of the benefits of obtaining an O-1 visa, include, though are not limited to the following:
- There isn’t a limit on how many O-1 visas are granted each year
- Premium processing is an option for the O-1 visa
- There is no visa lottery that O-1 visa applicants might otherwise be subject to
- There is no predefined minimum salary requirement for an O-1, unlike other visas, such as an H-1B
- There isn’t an academic degree requirement
- Having an O-1 visa affords the beneficiary an unlimited number of visa extensions
- The beneficiary is able to hold more than one O-1 visa simultaneously
- The ability to bring a spouse and child(ren) under an O-3 visa
- Dependents can attend school in the U.S. with an O-3 visa rather than an F-1
O-1 Visa Extensions of Stay
Beneficiaries seeking to extend their stay in the U.S. for the continuation or completion of an activity or event must request their employer or agent to submit further documentation to the USCIS.
The documents are as follows:
- Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker (Form I-129)
- A copy of the Arrival/Departure Record (Form I-94)
- A explanation for the reasoning behind the extension request
- Application to Extend/Change (Form I-539) for spouses and children (if applicable)
- Any other supporting documents for the extension
FAQs for The Best U.S. Work Visa
Who is the O-1 visa intended for?
What is the processing time for an O-1 visa?
How long can I stay in the U.S. with an O-1 visa?
Can the beneficiary extend their stay after their arrival in the United States?
Can my family travel to the U.S. with me if I get an O-1 visa?
Conclusion of O-1: The Best U.S. Work Visa Explained
Engineers, senior faculty and researchers, startup founders, and accomplished artists alike live and work in the U.S. with an O-1 visa. The visa is a prestigious option for individuals with extraordinary abilities, with advantages such as flexibility, unlimited visa extensions, and the ability to bring their dependents to the U.S. Such dependents enter the U.S. on O-3 visas, where they can also attend school.
It is a highly sought-after U.S. work visa that is reserved for non-citizens who have achieved extraordinary success and recognition in their respective fields, which include the sciences, education, business, athletics, and the arts. It allows these exceptional individuals to temporarily work in the U.S. in their areas of expertise, with unlimited one-year visa renewals.
To qualify for an O-1 visa, applicants must demonstrate their extraordinary ability through a combination of awards, publications, performances, and other forms of recognition and acclaim. They must meet at least three out of the eight specific eligibility criteria established by the USCIS.
For O-1A visa applicants, the criteria require sustained national or international acclaim and recognition. While O-1B visa applicants are required to prove extraordinary ability through sustained recognition and achievements in their professional artistic field.
The application process involves a sponsoring employer or agent filing Form I-129 on behalf of the applicant. This form is submitted to a USCIS service center, along with the necessary supporting documentation and filing fees, which has been taking about 1.5 months to process. Though applicants may also opt for Premium Processing, which expedites the review process down to 15 calendar days.
Visa extensions are possible for beneficiaries seeking to continue or complete their activities, which involves submitting the required documentation related to their Extension of Stay request.
All-in-all, it is a pathway for highly accomplished professionals and artists to contribute their talents to the enhancement of the United States.