O Visa

The O visas were created for foreign professionals who are at the very top of their field in the following categories: arts and entertainment, business, science, education and athletics. This versatile visa is ideal for artists, professional competitors, high-end chefs, and business people who may not possess bachelor's degrees. For example, I have obtained O petitions for the following categories: Opera Singer, Painter, Cancer Researcher, International Chess Master and Energy Researcher. To obtain this visa, the person must apply at the U.S. consulate in their home country, unless already in the U.S. in another valid status.

Requirements for an O Visa:

An O applicant must demonstrate extraordinary ability in his or her field of expertise, as demonstrated by sustained national or international acclaim in that field. The standard of proof required is much higher for business persons, scientists, educators and athletes than for artists and entertainers. In either case, carefully documenting and explaining the applicant's abilities is critical to success, as DHS requires a very high standard of proof for these applications.

For artists and entertainers, extraordinary ability means distinction, or more specifically "a high level of achievement in the field of arts evidenced by a degree of skill and recognition substantially above that normally encountered" so that the applicant is "renown, leading or well-known in the field of arts."

Extraordinary ability in the sciences, arts, education, business or athletics extraordinary ability means "a level or expertise indicating that the person is one of the small percentage who have risen to the very top of the field of endeavor."

Regardless of the category, the applicant must submit extensive documentation of his or her status in the field, including news articles, expert letters, and much more.

Proving Extraordinary Ability in the Arts- Artists and Entertainers:

There are two ways to demonstrate extraordinary ability for artists and entertainers:

  • The receipt of a well-known, international award such as a Grammy or Oscar OR
  • The applicant must provide extensive proof in at least three of the following categories:
  • The applicant 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
  • The applicant has achieved national or international recognition for achievements evidenced by critical reviews or other published materials by or about the individual in major newspapers, trade journals, magazines or other publications
  • The applicant has performed and will perform in a lead, starring or critical role for organizations and establishments that have a distinguished reputation evidenced by articles in newspapers, trade journals, publications or testimonials.
  • The applicant has a record of major commercial or critically acclaimed successes as evidenced by such indicators as 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
  • The applicant has received 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 which clearly indicated the author's authority, expertise and knowledge of the alien's achievements
  • The applicant has or does command or now commands high salary or other substantial remuneration for services in relation to others in field.
  • Other comparable evidence

Proving Extraordinary Ability in Sports, Business, Research and the Professions:

There are two ways to demonstrate extraordinary ability for business persons, scientists, educators and athletes:

  • The receipt of a well-known, international award such as a Nobel Prize OR
  • The applicant must provide extensive proof in at least three of the following categories:
  • Receipt of nationally or internationally recognized prizes or awards for excellence in the field
  • Membership in elite associations which require members to demonstrate outstanding achievements, as judged by recognized experts
  • Published materials in professional or major trade publications or major media about the applicant or concerning his or her work
  • Participation on a panel or individually as a judge of his or her peers in the same field of specialization
  • Original scientific, scholarly or business related contributions of major significance to the field
  • Publication of scholarly articles in professional journals or other major media
  • Previous or current employment in a critical or essential capacity for organizations with distinguished, well-respected reputations
  • Past or present high salary or remuneration as compared to other experts in the field
  • Other comparable evidence

Length of time for O-1 Status:

A qualified applicant will generally receive a one to three year authorized period of stay, which is renewable for one or two year increments indefinitely.

Procedures to Obtain O-1 Status and an O-1 Visa:

There is a two step process for applicants who are outside the United States. First the employer files an O petition with DHS inside the United States. Once the application is approved, the file is sent to the U.S. Consulate in the applicant's country of origin for further processing. The applicant then applies for the O visa at the U.S. consulate in their home country.

The U.S. Consulate will normally issue a two or five year multiple entry visa that is good This visa means the recipient may apply for entry to the United States within the time periods listed on the O visa. This visa does not guarantee entry to the United States. This visa does not determine the length of time a person may remain in the United States. All this visa does is allow the recipient to ask for entry to the United States at the port of entry (airport, seaport, land entry). At the port of entry, a DHS officer will then determine if the applicant is allowed to enter the U.S. and for how long. The officer will note the visa category and the final day of authorized stay on an I-94 card and then staple this card into the applicant's passport. The O visitor must leave the U.S. by the date listed on the I-94 card unless having applied for an extension or change of status to a new non-immigrant visa category.

For those applicants lawfully in the United States, the employer files an O-1 petition with DHS indicating a request to change the applicant's status. The applicant does not need to depart the U.S., instead automatically switches to O-1 status on the start date indicated on the DHS approval notice.

O-1 Visa Holders May Apply for a Green Card:

O-1 visa holders who are interested in obtaining a green card do not need to test the U.S. labor market first. This means they are allowed to skip the difficult and time consuming PERM labor certification process, which is the first step in the green card process. Generally there are three steps to obtaining a green card via employment. Executives and managers get to skip the time consuming first step (labor certification application). Instead, the applicant moves on to step two (the I-140 immigrant petition) and step three (the green card application).

Having said this, DHS is very reluctant to issue green cards to O-1 holders who follow this expedited path. This is true even though the green card eligibility requirements are almost identical to those used to obtain the O visa. For this reason, some O visa holders decide to complete all three steps, as the green card eligibility requirements are much less stringent.

Other Business Visas Which Might Apply:

In addition to O-1 visas, DHS also grants business immigration visas to foreign workers with bachelor's degrees, investors, intra-company transfer employees and applicants seeking on-the-job training. Some categories require a bachelor's degree, but several work visas exist for those lacking a four year college level degree. For more information about these business immigration visas, please read these articles: