The O-1 Visa is a great option for talented artists and entrepreneurs. Here’s a simple explanation of how the whole crazy process works.
So What Is An O-1 Visa?
If you are a complete rock star at your job—or even an actual rock star if your job is being a rock star—then the O-1 visa may be for you.
The O-1 is a type of work visa for people with “extraordinary ability” in their field. Now is not the time to be humble. If you are the best of the best in your profession and want to come work in the United States, read on.
What Does Duel Intent mean?
First, here’s all the legal specifics of the O-1 type of visa. Even if you are granted one, your status in the US is, technically, temporary. The O-1 does not lead to a green card. However, you can extend the O-1 over and over again, literally forever, so it’s still a pretty sweet option.
Even once you’re enjoying your time in the US, you’re going to need to keep strong ties to your home country. The US government wants reassurance that O-1 visa holders will actually return home once it expires. (The government is not fans of people overstaying their visas.)
The easiest method is maintaining a residence in your home country, although there are other ways to demonstrate strong ties as well.
Like the people who hold one, the O-1 is extra special. That’s because it’s a dual intent visa, meaning the holder can live (temporarily) in the US, while keeping open the possibility they might immigrate more permanently in the future.
This gives you the flexibility to change your status—for a fee. There is always a fee, which is explained in detail below.
How Do You Qualify?
You can’t just ask the US government nicely if you can have an O-1 visa. The O-1 requires a US citizen to sponsor the petitioner. (The sponsor is also sometimes called an agent, which can get confusing if you are in a creative field and already have a very different kind of agent.)
Once you get your sponsor, then you have to prove your unique, extraordinary talent. Talent at your job, that is, the government doesn’t care if you can balance a spoon on your nose.
You can fulfill this requirement by consulting board of experts, or, if there isn’t a board of experts for what you do, you can also use reputable awards to prove how exceptional you are at your job. So dust off that Nobel Prize, if you’ve got one.
If neither of those options are doable, don’t lose hope. The USCIS has a list of other criteria you can meet to verify your eligibility for an O-1 visa. You can find all of them on the USCIS website.
Details About The O-1 Visa Application Process & Fees
Whether you’re applying for an O-1 visa for the first time or changing/extending the status you already have, you need to file a Form I-129 with USCIS. Form I-129 comes with an eye-watering $460 filing fee.
If your spouse or kids are applying for a change of status to an O-3 visa, as dependents of an O-1 visa holder, they’ll need to file a Form I-539.
Form I-539 comes with its own $370 filing fee. The petitioner and each co-applicant also have to pay an $85 biometrics service fee.
The USCIS knows all these fees get confusing, and they want to make it really simple for you to pay them, so you’ll find a fee calculator on their website with filing and form specifics for each individual case.
If you’re the kind of person who likes to talk to a human instead, you can call the USCIS National Customer Service Center at 1-800-375-5283 to make sure the fees are up to date.
When you’re applying for an O-1 visa, you and any dependents also have to complete a Form DS-160 with the Department of State. The DS-160 has a fee of $190 for each applicant, because of course it does. The good news is form DS-160 is not required if you’re completing a change or extension of status.
The Good News About Processing Times
The US government never moves quickly, so it’s kind of shocking that it takes a lot less time to process an O-1 visa than most other nonimmigrant work visas. That’s because it doesn’t require something called a Labor Certification Application.
Normally, that is the lengthiest step for a visa, and it proves the applicant is meeting current labor demand in the US. It’s not required for an O-1 since that visa is granted on the condition you have that “extraordinary ability” in your field.
In other words, you’re so talented that no American can compare, so you’re not coming over here, taking their job.
Even though the processing period for an O-1 visa is pretty short, it still needs to be filed at least 45 days before you plan on traveling to the US.
If you were responsible and planned ahead, that shouldn’t be an issue. The USCIS helpfully provides this resource to determine the current processing times. (When you’re using it, just be aware that the O-1 visa uses an I-129 form and gets processed at either the California or Vermont Service Centers).
But if you need to enter the United States for work sooner than 45 days, or even ASAP, there is a way.
Getting Special Treatment With Premium Processing
If you’re willing to throw money around, things can move a lot faster. The US government offers Premium Processing for the O-1 visa, which guarantees you’ll get it within 15 calendar days.
You pay dearly for that speed though: it involves a $1,410 fee. Your employer or agent should use Form I-907 to request premium processing for your application.
Another perk of Premium Processing is it allows you to contact a USCIS employee via phone, email, or fax (if you are living in the Dark Ages) and they’ll respond pretty much immediately.
The usefulness of shelling out for Premium Processing just comes down to your personal needs and timeline.
The Reality of Hiring a Lawyer
Even after reading this helpful article, you might decide the process is too confusing and you want to hire an immigration lawyer. In exchange for assistance preparing and filing an O-1 visa application, they will obviously expect payment, on top of what the government asks for.
These fees are going to vary from lawyer to lawyer depending on how much experience they have and their area of expertise. Immigration lawyers will either charge a flat-fee or bill you on an hourly basis.
Some lawyers offer free consultation, but others may charge up to $200 to talk to you at all. Realistically, it could cost up to $5,000 for an immigration attorney to help file an O-1 visa. Just something to keep in mind.
Getting Help Paying For Your O-1 Visa Application
As you can see, the visa application process isn’t cheap, so it is important to know the costs that you’ll need to pay before beginning the application process.
Also keep in mind filing fees are nonrefundable, even if the US government ends up denying your petition.
What Are Some Assistance Options?
Fortunately, there are various resources available to help ease the financial strain of filing a visa application. Stilt is a fintech company focused on providing credit to immigrants.
They have applications for loans and more useful information available on their website. The Self-Help Federal Credit Union also offers potential immigration loans to help pay visa application fees.
Wrapping It All Up
It’s a confusing process, but you got this. Just take some time to verify the fees required for specific visas. Research immigration lawyers until you find one who’s a good combination of qualified and affordable to help file the O-1 visa application.
If you do it yourself, check and double check everything is in order before you apply. Get it right, and you and your extraordinary talent will be working in the US before you know it.