Foreign nationals with “extraordinary” abilities in the performing arts, fine arts, motion pictures, television production, athletics, sciences, or business are eligible for an O-1 nonimmigrant visa. This stringent visa category requires applicants to demonstrate “extraordinary” ability by sustained national or international acclaim, and more specifically, proof of fulfillment of certain listed criteria, including receipt of nationally or internationally recognized awards, published material in professional publications and significant contributions to his/her specialized field, to name a few.
The O-1 visa category is further divided into two categories: O-1A and O-1B. The O-1A visa is designed for individuals with extraordinary ability or achievement in the athletics, business, education, or sciences, whereas the O-1B visa is designed for individuals that possess extraordinary ability or achievement in the arts or television and film industry.
Like other nonimmigrant visa categories, O-1 beneficiaries also need a U.S. petitioner to sponsor the O-1 application on the foreign beneficiary’s behalf. (For more on O-2, O-3, Period of Stay, and Green Card Eligibility, see below.)
In order to be considered for an O-1A visa, the foreign national of extraordinary ability must be able to provide evidence that they have received an internationally acclaimed award, such as a Nobel Prize or Olympic Gold Medal, or prove at least three of the following criteria:
- Receipt of nationally or internationally recognized prizes or awards for excellence in the field of endeavor.
- Membership in associations in the field for which classification is sought which require outstanding achievements, as judged by recognized national or international experts in the field.
- Published material in professional or major trade publications, newspapers or other major media about the beneficiary and the beneficiary’s work in the field for which classification is sought.
- Original scientific, scholarly, or business-related contributions of major significance in the field.
- Authorship of scholarly articles in professional journals or other major media in the field for which classification is sought.
- A high salary or other remuneration for services as evidenced by contracts or other reliable evidence.
- 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.
- Employment in a critical or essential capacity for organizations and establishments that have a distinguished reputation.
If the above criteria do not readily apply to the field of expertise, other comparable evidence may be submitted as evidence of extraordinary ability.
To qualify for an O-1B visa, the petitioner must provide evidence that the foreign national of extraordinary ability has been nominated for or has received a significant national or international award, such as an Academy Award Grammy, or prove at least three of the following criteria:
- Performed and 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.
- Achieved national or international recognition for achievements, as shown by critical reviews or other published materials by or about the beneficiary in major newspapers, trade journals, magazines, or other publications.
- Performed and will perform in a lead, starring, or critical role for organizations and establishments that have a distinguished reputation as evidenced by articles in newspapers, trade journals, publications, or testimonials.
- 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.
- Received significant recognition for achievements from organizations, critics, government agencies or other recognized experts in the field in which the beneficiary is engaged, with the testimonials clearly indicating the author's authority, expertise and knowledge of the beneficiary's achievements.
- A high salary or other substantial remuneration for services in relation to others in the field, as shown by contracts or other reliable evidence.
If the beneficiary’s field of expertise is in the field of the arts, and the above criteria does not generally apply, the petitioner may provide other appropriate evidence to verify that the beneficiary demonstrates extraordinary ability and expertise in his/her field.
O-2, Assistants and Support Staff
The support staff of extraordinary O-1 foreign nationals are eligible to apply for an O-2 visa so that they may accompany the O-1 artist or athlete in order to assist them with their O-1 activities. In the case of an O-1A visa, the presence of the O-2 individual must be essential for the O-1 visa holder’s activities in the United States. In the case of O-1B visas, the O-2 must have critical skills and extensive experience in the O-1 visa holder’s field of expertise, which makes the position unavailable to U.S. workers. The O-1B visa holder must further show that the presence of the O-2 worker is necessary for the success of the O-1 activities to be conducted in the U.S.
O-3, Family Members
O-1 and/or O-2 visa holder’s spouse and children (under the age of 21) may apply for an O-3 visa to enter the U.S. with the primary O-1 and/or O-2 visa holder. As long as the O-1 or O-2 visa remains valid, the O-3 family member may reside in the U.S.
Period of Stay
The foreign national of extraordinary ability must be coming temporarily to the United States to continue work in the area of his/her extraordinary ability. O-1 visas are typically granted for an initial period of 3 years, but can be extended in one-year increments as long as the “extraordinary” ability and work is sustained.
Green Card Eligibility
Those on O-1 visas may also be eligible to apply for the First Preference Employment-Based Green Cards.