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O-1 Visa: Extraordinary Ability

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Cheering Crowd - dv097093; O-1 Visa: Extraordinary AbilityThe O-1 Visa may be an option for individuals who can demonstrate Extraordinary Ability in the Sciences, Education, Business or Athletics (the highest standard), “Distinction” in the Arts (the lowest standard), or “Extraordinary Achievement” in the Motion Picture or Television industry (intermediate standard). Note that the standards for the arts and for television and film are lower than that for science, education, business or athletics (the arts standard is substantially lower than that for business, science and athletics).

An O-1 Visa may be granted for a period of up to 3 years. Extensions may be authorized for periods of up to one year to continue or complete the event(s) for which the O-1 Visa holder was initially admitted into the US. The O-1 Visa can be extended indefinitely.


O-1 Visa: Basic Requirements

  • O-1 Visa candidate is entering the US to perform services relating to an event or events (which can include employment).
  • O-1 Visa candidate has a US employer or US agent that will serve as an O-1 Visa sponsor. The O-1 Visa is valid ONLY to perform work for the sponsoring employer or agent. To work for other employers or agencies, the candidate must file a separate O-1 Visa petition (multiple O-1 petitions are permissible), or must perform work in the US via the sponsoring employer/agent. If the O-1 Visa candidate has a US agent rather than a US employer, s/he must provide an itinerary of events in which s/he will participate during the term of the O-1 visa.
  • The O-1 Visa candidate must demonstrate Extraordinary ability in Business, Science, Education or Athletics; Distinction in the Arts; or Extraordinary Achievement in Film or Television (see below for standards for each area of expertise).

The O-1 Visa standard for the Arts is considerably lower than that for Business, Science, Education and Athletics or for Extraordinary Achievement in Motion Pictures or Television. However, the EB-1 Extraordinary Ability Green Card standard is the same for all areas of expertise, and is equivalent to the O-1 standard for extraordinary ability in business, science education or athletics (O-1A). Those who do not qualify for the higher EB-1 Extraordinary Ability Green Card standard must seek another alternative should they be interested in US permanent residence.

The Three O-1 Visa Standards

1. O-1 Visa: Extraordinary Ability in Business, Science, Education, or Athletics (O-1A)

To meet the O-1 Visa Extraordinary Ability standard in the Sciences, Education, Business or Athletics, an O-1 candidate must show sustained national or international acclaim in his or her field of expertise, i.e., “a level of expertise indicating that s/he is one of the small percentage who have risen to the very top of the field of endeavor.” Specifically, evidence must consist of either (a) receipt of a major, internationally recognized award, such as the Nobel Prize, a Grammy or Oscar nomination or similar major award, or (b) at least 3 of the following:

  • Employment in critical or essential capacity for organizations and establishments that have a distinguished reputation.
  • Original scientific, scholarly or business-related contributions of major significance in the field.
  • Published material in professional or major trade publications or major media about candidate relating to candidate’s work in the field for which classification is sought.
  • Participation on panel or individually as judge of the work of others in the same or allied field for which classification is sought.
  • Authorship of scholarly articles in the field, in professional journals or other major media.
  • High Remuneration: Has received or will receive a high salary or will command a high salary or other remuneration for services in relations to others in the same field.
  • Major Prizes or Awards: Receipt of nationally or internationally recognized prizes or awards for excellence in the field of endeavor.
  • Membership in Associations Requiring Outstanding Achievements: Membership in associations in the field for which classification is sought that require outstanding achievements of their members, as judged by recognized national or international experts in their fields.

If the above criteria do not readily apply to the O-1 candidate’s field, then comparable evidence may be submitted.

Overall, an O-1 Visa candidate should demonstrate some major impact on his or her field. USCIS has indicated in recent guidance that demonstrating 3 or more of the listed set of regulatory criteria may not be enough for approval of a petition in the O-1 Visa category.

2. O-1 Visa: Distinction in the Arts (O-1B)

To qualify for an O-1 Visa in the Arts (except for Television or Film; for that standard, O-1C, see below), candidates must demonstrate “distinction,” or “a degree or skill and recognition substantially above that ordinarily encountered to the extent that a person described as prominent is renowned, leading or well-known in the field of arts.” Specifically, candidates must provide: (a) evidence of nomination for, or receipt of, major national or international awards or prizes in their particular field of expertise, such as an Academy Award, an Emmy, a Grammy, a Director’s Guild Award, the Nobel Prize, Putlitzer Prize, National Book Award, etc. or equivalent; or (b) at least 3 of the following:

  • Leading or Starring Role in Events with a Distinguished Reputation: candidate has performed and will perform services as a lead or starring participant in productions or events with a distinguished reputation (e.g., critical reviews, advertisements, publicity releases, publications, contracts or endorsements).
  • Leading or Starring role for Establishments with Distinguished Reputation: candidate has performed and will perform in a lead, starring or critical role for organizations and establishments with a distinguished reputation (demonstrated by articles in newspapers, trade journals, publications or testimonials).
  • Significant Recognition from Organizations, Critics, Governments or Experts: candidate has received significant recognition for achievements from organizations, critics, government agencies or other recognized experts in the field in which the applicant is engaged; testimonials must be in a format that clearly indicates the author’s authority, expertise, and knowledge of the applicant’s achievements.
  • National or International Recognition: candidate has achieved national or international recognition for achievements (demonstrated by critical reviews or other published materials by or about the individual in major newspapers, trade journals, magazines, or other publications).
  • Major Commercial or Critically Acclaimed Success: candidate has a record of major commercial or critically acclaimed successes as indicated by title, rating, standing in the field, box office receipts, motion pictures or television ratings, and other occupational achievements reported in trade journals, major newspapers or other publications.
  • High Remuneration: candidate has either commanded a high salary or will command a high salary or other substantial remuneration for services in relation to others in the field.

3. O-1 Visa: Extraordinary Achievement in Film or Television (O-1C)

To qualify as a person of extraordinary achievement in the motion picture or television industry for O-1 Visa purposes, a candidate must demonstrate a “record of extraordinary achievement in the motion picture or television industry” as shown by (a) evidence that candidate has been nominated for or has received significant national or international awards or prizes in the particular field such as an Academy Award, an Emmy, a Grammy or a Director’s Guild Award, or (b) at least 3 of the following:

  • Leading or Starring role for Establishments with Distinguished Reputation: candidate has performed and will perform in a lead, starring or critical role for organizations and establishments with a distinguished reputation evidenced by articles in newspapers, trade journals, publications or testimonials.
  • Leading or Starring Role in Productions with Distinguished Reputation: candidate has 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.
  • Significant Recognition from Organizations, Critics, Governments or Experts: significant recognition for achievements from organizations, critics, government agencies, or other recognized experts in the field in which the alien is engaged. Such testimonials must be in a form that clearly indicates the author’s authority, expertise, and knowledge of the candidate’s achievements.
  • National or International Recognition: national or international recognition for achievements (demonstrated by critical reviews or other published materials by or about candidate in major newspapers, trade journals, magazines, or other publications).
  • Major Commercial or Critically Acclaimed Success: candidate has a record of major commercial or critically acclaimed success as demonstrated by such indicators as title, rating, 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.
  • High Remuneration: candidate has either commanded a high salary or will command a high salary or other substantial remuneration for services in relation to others in the field as evidenced by contracts or other reliable evidence.

Note that O-1 Visa candidates in television and film do not have a “catch-all” category that allows them to submit “other comparable evidence” to demonstrate their extraordinary achievements in the industry. This may make a petition in this O-1 Visa sub-category more challenging.

Required O-1 Visa Peer Group Consultation

In addition to meeting the criteria for O-1 Extraordinary Ability or Achievement (see below), the regulations require an O-1 candidate to provide a written Consultation from a US Peer Group (unless no appropriate peer group exists for the candidate’s field of expertise). A Peer Group Consultation might also include a person or persons with expertise in the candidate’s field of endeavor.

If a labor or management organization exists in the candidate’s field, USCIS requires a consultation from that organization stating that, at minimum, that organization has “no objection” to the O-1 Visa candidate entering the US to work.

O-1 Visa Processing Time

Timing for the O-1 Visa varies substantially (2 to 4 months) depending on where the petition is filed; timing can change dramatically in accordance with USCIS priorities. However, one can file an expedited petition for an additional fee payable to USCIS (the US Government). This expedite fee guarantees processing within 15 calendar days of filing. However, this premium processing does NOT guarantee a final decision within 15 days. Even in petitions that have used premium processing, USCIS may request additional evidence (known as a request for further evidence, or RFE), which restarts the clock for another 15 days upon receipt of such additional evidence. Requests for additional evidence on an O-1 visa petition, particularly in the current climate, can be unpredictable. However, we have found that generally, the stronger the evidence presented with the initial petition, the less likely that USCIS will issue an RFE.

O-2 Visa for Individuals Accompanying Arts, TV and Film O-1 Visa Holders

The O-2 Visa (different from the O-3 Visa, which is for an O-1 Visa holder’s immediate relatives) is for individuals who wish to accompany an O-1 Visa holder in the Arts, Motion Picture and Television productions or Athletics. (No comparable O-2 Visa accompanying alien category exists for individuals in the fields of Business, Science and Education.) An O-2 Visa petition must be in conjunction with the services of an O-1 Visa holder, and the O-2 Visa holder is not allowed to work apart from the O-1 Visa.

O-2 Visa candidates must meet the following criteria:

  • Seek to enter the US solely for the purpose of assisting in an O-1 Visa holder’s performance.
  • Be an integral part of the actual performance.
  • Have critical skills and experience with the O-1 Visa holder that are not of a general nature, and that cannot be performed by US workers (no labor certification required, and no requirement to show that US workers cannot perform the job).
  • Must have a foreign residence that s/he does not intend to abandon.

In addition to the above, O-2 Visa holders who accompany an O-1 television or film artist must:

  • Have skills and experience with the O-1 Visa holder that are not of a general nature, and that are critical based upon a pre-existing, long-standing working relationship; or,
  • Have skills and experience with the O-1 Visa holder that relate to a particular production because significant production (including pre- and post-production activities) will occur inside and outside of the US, and therefore the continuing participation of the O-2 Visa holder is essential to the successful completion of a particular project.