Calling all creatives and entrepreneurs!
Completing your O-1 Visa can be complicated. You’ll need to find a sponsor, fill out necessary forms, and to make sure that you meet the O-1 program’s eligibility requirements.
To make the process easier, we’ve put together this article. Read on to learn everything you need to know about the O-1 visa, and what’s involved with applying.
What is the O-1 visa?
The O-1 Visa is a non-immigrant visa.
This means that, while an O-1 visa will allow you to come to the United States and be legally employed, the O-1 track doesn’t lead directly to a green card. That said, working in the US on an O-1 visa may actually help you acquire a green card down the road.
This visa was made with talent in mind, and it’s specifically for people who demonstrate “extraordinary ability.”
If you’re extremely accomplished in these fields, you’re eligible to live and work in the USA under O-1 status:
Types of O-1 visas
There are 2 distinct types of O-1 visas, and it’s important to understand the difference between the two.
If you plan on coming to the USA to work in education, business, athletics or science, you need to apply for an O-1A.
Those involved with matters involving art, television or movies need to apply for an O-1B.
A quick note about O-2 & O-3 visas
If you have an assistant who you’d like to have join you while you work in the USA, they’ll need to apply for an O-2 visa. You can find more information about O-2 visas by clicking here.
If you have a spouse or children that will be accompanying you, they need to apply for an O-3 Visa. Click here to learn more.
Proving extraordinary ability
Getting an O-1 visa is all about demonstrating excellence in your respective industry. So what exactly does “extraordinary ability” mean?
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) defines extraordinary ability as “sustained national or international acclaim.”
This means that, in your application, you must demonstrate a level of expertise in your field that puts you above your peers, either nationally or internationally.
Remember that there are two different classifications of O-1 visas (O-1A & O-1B). The criteria required to demonstrate your extraordinary ability will change depending on which O-1 type you’re applying for.
Criteria for O-1A
Receipt of nationally/internationally recognized prizes in your field
Have you won awards for your
Membership in prestigious organizations in your field
- For example: if you’re an athlete, are you part of an important players’s union?
Published material in major publications
- Have you appeared in interviews and other articles in the media? This criterion is especially important!
Original scholarly contributions of significance
- Do you have papers published in key research journals?
Participation on a panel of judges
- Are you such a recognized expert that people look to you for feedback on their own work?
Criteria for O1-B
- Performance as a lead in productions that have a distinguished reputation
- It helps to be the star!
- A record of commercial or critically acclaimed success
- Box office receipts,
- Significant recognition of achievements such as an Academy Award, Emmy, Grammy, etc.*
- If you don’t have a major award, then at least 3 different forms of evidence (more below).
Required materials for both O-1A & O-1B
After determining whether or not you are eligible for an O-1 Visa, you need to make sure you have the necessities.
First, you are going to need a sponsor (also known as a petitioner). This sponsor must be a person, group, or business involved in your field of extraordinary ability.
A U.S. agent may be used as your sponsor. This agent can be your employer, a representative of your employer, or an authorized third party to act on behalf of your employer.
Should this agent be an agent for multiple employers, they need to establish their authority to act on behalf of those other employers.
In order to apply for an O-1 Visa, you will need to file Form I-129 (the Petition for Nonimmigrant Workers) from the USCIS office that is listed on the form’s instructions.
USCIS recommends that your I-129 be filed at least 45 days before the date of your employment. However, the I-129 cannot be filed more than one year before employment.
But a sponsor and I-129 form aren’t the only things that you will need in order to receive your O-1 Visa.
You are going to need to supply additional documents to prove your employment in the U.S. and what and when you will be completing it.
Consultation from your sponsor
You are going to need a written statement from your sponsor to accompany your I-129.
Remember, your sponsor must be from an appropriate or related peer, group, or business associated with your area of extraordinary ability.
If your consultation has any kind of distinctive marks that establish authenticity (such as a watermark) then the marked copy should be submitted to USCIS.
Failure to do so could actually cause delays in your O-1 Visa being processed.
Your consultation may be waived if you are traveling to the U.S. for some sort of artistic endeavor or employment opportunity if you have performed similar services within 2 years of your previous consultation.
In this case, your sponsor should submit a waiver request and a copy of your previous consultation.
You will also need a copy of any written or verbal contracts between you and your employer.
USCIS accepts verbal contracts in the forms of email, a written summary, or any other evidence that proves that something was offered by the employer and that the offer was accepted by the employee.
If you are working with a sponsor who is a U.S. agent for multiple employers, a contract between you and your actual employer need to be provided.
The contract must also come with the terms and conditions of employment.
Evidence of extraordinary ability for O-1B
Remember that a main O-1B requirement is to have some sort of major aware, like an Academy Award, Emmy, Tony, or similar for your particular industry.
If you haven’t won this sort of award, you’ll need to submit AT LEAST three of the following:
- Evidence that you have performed in a lead or starring role in a distinguished production that has received critical review and/or publicity
- Evidence that you have achieved national or international recognition for your achievements via reviews or other appearances in recognized media publications
- Evidence that you have a record of major commercial success that can be corroborated with titles, box office receipts, or media appearances
- Evidence that you have received recognition from prestigious groups, governments, experts or critics
- Evidence that you maintain a high salary for your services
- Evidence that you have performed, and will continue to perform, in a lead role for organizations that have a distinguished reputation
If you need help developing your evidence portfolio, there are companies that can help. We recommend Echo Park Marketing.
They can help you appear in articles and interviews in publications that can help demonstrate your abilities.
In addition to supplying a contract and consultation from an appropriate sponsor, you will also need an itinerary of any events, activities or changes in work location that you will be involved in.
This itinerary needs to include a description of the events, beginning and end dates, and any copies of the itineraries for those specific events or activities if applicable.
Your sponsor must prove that these events are in your field of extraordinary ability for the period requested on your O-1 Visa.
If you are working with a U.S. agent working on behalf of multiple employers, then you must include an itinerary that also includes names and addresses of your actual employer and the names and addresses of the venues or locations where the events will be held.
Completing your O-1 visa petition
Once you have collected all of the necessary documentation and is approved by USCIS for your O-1 Visa, you can apply for the actual visa at a U.S. embassy or consulate.
You will need to complete the necessary documentation there and, typically, pay either a visa application fee or reciprocity fee depending on the country you are traveling from.