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Visas for People With Extraordinary Ability or Achievement

When speaking about US non-immigrant work visas, most people immediately think of H visas, which are in fact the best-known and most conventional work visas. However, there are a number of other categories of non-immigrant work visas available to foreign nationals. One very important category is the O visa for exceptional foreign nationals.

As the title indicates, O-1 visas are non-immigrant visas for persons of extraordinary ability or achievement. There are two subcategories of O-1 visas.

  • O-1A is for individuals with sustained national or international acclaim of extraordinary abilities in athletics, business, science, or education.
  • O-1B is for persons with extraordinary abilities in the arts OR a record of extraordinary achievement in the motion picture or TV industry.

Generally speaking, there are three major requirements for an O-1 visa. First, the visa is employer specific and you cannot self-petition for an O-1 visa. You need to have a contract with either a US employer or an agent in the United States, who will be the individual/entity that would file the petition for you. Second, the petition needs to be accompanied by an advisory opinion. Third, the employer/agent has to provide evidence that you have extraordinary ability or extraordinary achievement.

“Extraordinary ability” for purposes of O-1A visa means that the individual is one of the small percent of people who have arisen to the very top of their field (athletics, science, business, or education). This can be demonstrated by either showing the receipt of one-time major award like an Olympic Medal or a Noble Prize, OR show at least three of the following:

  • Receipt of a lesser nationally or internationally recognized prize or award;
  • A membership in an organization that requires outstanding achievements from their members, as judged by experts in their field;
  • Published articles about the individual related to their work or athletic performance;
  • Original scholarly, business–related, or scientific work of major significance in the individual’s field of expertise;
  • Participation on a jury or panel evaluating the work of others;
  • Evidence of authorship of published scholarly work;
  • Proof that the person has commanded or will command a high salary or other remuneration for their work;
  • Evidence of employment in an essential or critical capacity for entities with distinguished reputation.

For purposes of O-1B visa in the arts or movies/TV, the person has to demonstrate that they are prominent in their field, which can be shown through a nomination or receipt of a major national or international award, like an Emmy, Grammy, or Director’s Guild Award. Alternatively, “prominence” or “achievement” can be shown with evidence of at least three of the following:

  • Performance in a lead in a production or event that has received a distinguished reputation;
  • Performance in a lead or critical role for an organization or establishment with a distinguished reputation;
  • National or international acclaim evidenced by critical reviews in major newspapers, magazines, or trade journals;
  • A record of major commercial or critically acclaimed successes;
  • Significant recognition for achievements from organizations, government agencies, critics, or other recognized experts in the person’s field.
  • Proof that the person has commanded or will command a high salary in relation to others in the field.

The above lists are in no way exhaustive, and supplemental and comparable evidence can be used to establish eligibility. 

There are several notable benefits to going for an O-1 visa. First, compared to other non-immigrant work visas, obtaining an O-1 visa is relatively inexpensive. Second, while most other visas have a limited duration of stay (H1-B for six years, L visas for five or seven years), an O-1 visa allows for an initial period of stay for up to 3 years, but also allows for unlimited one-year extensions as long as you continue the work or complete the same event or activity. Third, there is no annual cap nor a labor certification requirement like there is for H-1B visas. Finally, O-1 visas are among the visas that allow for a “dual intent,” which allows you to pursue permanent residency, without putting your status in jeopardy.

In addition, O-1 visa holder is entitled to bring their spouse and children for the duration of his or her stay on an O-3 visa. If your status is extended, theirs will be extended along with yours. Furthermore, under the general umbrella of this category, if you are an athlete or an artist, you can bring along assistants or other personnel on an O-2 visa, if they can be considered essential to your work or performance.

Hiring a California Immigration Attorney

For a more detailed information or questions about O visas or any other type of work visas, please contact The Justice Firm locally at (310) 914-2444 or our Toll-Free number at (866) 695-6714, or visit us on our website. Our immigration attorneys serve clients in Los Angeles, Riverside, Orange, Ventura, and San Bernardino counties.

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