O-1 Visa for Aliens of Extraordinary Ability

The O-1 visa is a temporary work visa available to foreign nationals who have “extraordinary ability in the sciences, arts, education, business or athletics.”  The extraordinary ability must have been demonstrated by “sustained national or international acclaim.”  The O1 visa is also available to those in motion pictures and television who can demonstrate a record of “extraordinary achievement.”  The requirement has been interpreted broadly to include most creative fields, including photographers, chefs, carpenters and lecturers.  The person must be coming to the United States to work in his or her field of ability, but the position need not require the services of a person of extraordinary ability.

Qualifications for an O-1 Visa

To qualify for an O-1 visa, you must demonstrate that you possess extraordinary ability in the arts, sciences, business, education, athletics, or the motion picture or television industry.  You must show that you have achieved sustained or international acclaim.  You must be coming to the United States to perform temporary services for a U.S. employer relating to an event or events.

Extraordinary ability means that you have achieved a high level of expertise such that you are one of a small percentage at the top of your field.  Artists and entertainers must show a degree of skill and recognition substantially above that normally encountered, and is prominent, renowned, leading or well-known in their artistic field.

O-1 visa holders must be entering the United States to perform temporary services for an American employer or an agent of an international employer.  You must be entering the United States to participate in a specific event or events which require your expertise. The petition may not be filed more than six months before the services are needed.

Evidence for O-1 Visa Petitions

The O-1 visa petition requires specific evidence of your qualifications and international recognition of your extraordinary ability.  You may prove your ability in the field by showing that you have received an internationally-recognized award, such as a Nobel Prize.  You can also document at least three of the following:

  • Internationally or nationally recognized prizes or awards;
  • Published material about your work;
  • Membership in an association that requires members to have outstanding achievement;
  • Original scientific, scholarly, or business-related contributions of major significance in the field;
  • Authorship of scholarly articles published in any type of major media or professional journals;
  • High salary or any other type of compensation;
  • Participation on a panel, or as a judge for other people’s works;
  • Evidence of past employment for organizations or establishments that have a high reputation.

If the above standards do not readily apply to the alien’s occupation, you may submit comparable evidence in order to establish your eligibility.

You will also need to provide a contract between you and your employer that describes the terms and conditions of services to be performed, or a summary of the terms of an oral agreement.  For specific events, you should provide a specific itinerary showing the schedule and ending date of events.

Length of Stay and Renewals of O-1 Visa

An O-1 visa may be granted for up to three years.  O-1 visa status may be renewed in one year increments, or until the project is finished.

Application Procedures

You cannot apply for an O visa on your own behalf.  Generally, the employer must petition for the status with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.  You can also file through a U.S. agent.  This process is often used when you will work for multiple employers in the United States.  Once the petition is approved, you must then apply for an O-1 visa at a U.S. embassy or consulate.

O-1 Visas and Permanent Residency

O-1 visas allow for “dual intent,” meaning that you may apply for permanent residency without jeopardizing your eligibility for the O-1 visa.  Furthermore, qualification for the O-1 visa category is similar to the requirements for the EB-1A permanent resident category, as Aliens of Extraordinary Ability.

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