O-1 visas are temporary nonimmigrant visas available for highly acclaimed, extraordinary individuals in the sciences, arts, education, business or athletics.
O-1, Extraordinary Ability
O-1 nonimmigrant visas are available for highly talented or acclaimed individuals in the sciences, arts, education, business, or athletics. To qualify for O-1 status, an applicant must have extraordinary ability "demonstrated by sustained national or international acclaim." Extraordinary ability means a "level of expertise indicating that the person is one of that small percentage who has risen to the very top of the field of endeavor."
The O-1 category is especially helpful to medical researchers and scientists, athletes, and extraordinary businessmen/women. Unlike the H-1B program, the O-1 visa does not have an annual quota, which thereby allows any number of applicants to qualify for O-1 status each fiscal year and there is also no requirement for the employer to pay the "prevailing wage".
The O-1 program offers another significant advantage to physicians and researchers subject to the two-year home residency requirement of the J-1 visa, in that an applicant may obtain an O-1 visa without first obtaining a J-1 waiver. Although a waiver would still be necessary to change status from O-1 to H-1B or permanent residency, the O-1 is a valuable visa that could be used as an important strategic tool in overall immigration strategy planning.
Criteria used to establish "extraordinary ability"
As a preliminary matter, if the applicant has received a major, international award (i.e., a Nobel prize), the applicant will automatically qualify for O-1 status based on this singular achievement.
However, if the applicant has not achieved such an award, the applicant must produce a minimum of three (3) of the following types of evidence to establish that they are an "alien of extraordinary ability." By statute, the applicant must produce:
- Documentation of receipt of a lesser nationally or internationally recognized prize or award for excellence in the applicant's field;
- Documentation of membership in associations in the applicant's field that demand outstanding achievements of their members;
- Evidence of published material about the applicant in trade publications or media;
- Evidence that the applicant has judged the work of others in the field;
- Evidence that the applicant has made contributions of major significance to the field;
- Evidence of scholarly articles written by the applicant;
- Evidence that the applicant has performed in a leading or critical role for organizations that have a distinguished reputation; or
- Evidence that the applicant has commanded high remuneration in relation to others in the field.
If the above standards do not readily apply to the applicant's field of extraordinary ability, the applicant may submit comparable evidence in order to establish eligibility.
Please note that there are separate regulatory requirements for entertainers and artists who wish to apply for an O-1 visa. Please contact our office directly for an outline of these requirements as they are significantly more complex than those outlined above.
How to apply for O-1 status
To request O-1 approval, an I-129, Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker with O Supplement, must be filed with the USCIS center having jurisdiction over the place of intended employment. There is no limit on the length of admission for an O-1 applicant, except that admission is usually authorized for a period of three years for the temporary position offered with one year extensions beyond the initial 3 year period. Dependents of O-1 visa holders are categorized as O-3s, and are not authorized to work while in said status.