Law Blog

IMMIGRATION: Extraordinary Individuals (O-1)

The O-1 Visa is for people who have extraordinary ability and achievements in one of these categories:

  • sciences
  • arts
  • education
  • business
  • athletics
  • motion picture or television industry

There are some great advantages to an O-1 Visa, but be aware these are not easy visas to get.

You’ll need to show you have “extraordinary achievement,” in your field.  The purpose of this article is to help you understand what that means, so you can decide whether the O-1 Visa is right for you.

O-1 Overview

The term “extraordinary achievements” seems vague and broad, but the USCIS has given us some rather specific examples of items that meet this requirement.  First, be aware there are two subcategories of the O-1 visa that are equal but different: the O-1A and the O-1B. The O-1A is meant for those with extraordinary achievements in the fields of science, athletics, business, or education (left-brainers, if you will). Here is a list of the evidence that you can use to reap the O-1A benefits:

  • A well-recognized international award such as a Nobel Prize or Olympic medal
  • A less well-known award that is nationally or internationally recognized
  • A membership in an exclusive organization related to your field
  • Mentions of your published material in trade publications
  • Scholarly articles that you’ve written for your field
  • Other significant contributions to your field
  • Commanding a large salary
  • Sitting as a judge or on a panel of judges for your peers
  • Holding critical positions for esteemed organizations in your field

The O-1B is, as you’ve probably guessed, more for right-brained individuals and is geared toward extraordinary actors and artists. The criteria for this one is slightly different from those of the O-1A. You’ll need to show proof of:

  • A top-tier award like an Oscar or a Grammy
  • A position as the lead role in a well-known production
  • Having received national or international recognition for your achievements
  • A lead and/or starring role in a well-known organization
  • Reviews, publications, or other news that indicates your commercial success
  • Commanding a large salary
  • Recognition for your achievements from reputable organizations of your achievement

Remember that, if you have a top-level award like a Nobel Prize or Oscar, you satisfy the requirement. If you do not have a top-level award, then you will need to present evidence of at least three of the other items on the above list.

Also, these lists are not exhaustive and supplementary evidence can be used. Your immigration attorney can help you determine what can be used in this case.

O-1 Visa Benefits

So now that we know the standards that this visa demands, we can examine the O-1 visa benefits that come along with the prestige. Overall, well cover the following topics:

  • Cost
  • Sponsors
  • Validity Period
  • Assistants and Family Members
  • Green Card Process

How Much Does it Cost?

When viewed in the light of other nonimmigrant visas, the O-1 is relatively inexpensive. As the petitioner, you are responsible for the $460 basic filing fee for the I-129 petition and the $190 charge for the DS-160 online application (only if you are outside of the U.S. and are going through consular processing). Additionally, you can opt to pay $1,225 for premium processing to have your I-129 processing time expedited from the usual six months to just 15 calendar days.

So, all in all, the O-1 visa cost is between $460 and $650 without premium processing. Compared to the hefty H-1B fees that add up to over $6,000 at times and the loose E-2 visa investment of $150,000, the O-1 is relatively light on the wallet.

Who Can Sponsor Me?

One question we often get is: can I self-petition? And while self-petition ing or self-sponsoring is possible through visas such as those in the E class, it is not possible through an O-1.

So why have we added it to the list of O-1 visa benefits? This visa is advantageous because of the versatility of who your sponsor can be. Most visas that require a sponsor maintain that the sponsor should be an employer. However, because O-1 visa applicants are often contracted rather than hired at will, the sponsor can either be an employer or a U.S. agent.

An agent is someone that is hired as representation for the employment and interests of the O-1 applicant. This designation means that you do not have to be committed to any one employer or seek a job offer to qualify for the O-1. You simply need someone to represent you who will sponsor you for your visa. However, that person must represent you throughout your O-1 visa duration of stay.

Also, you can also go the route of getting a direct employer. If this is your case, then you will need to make sure that this employer is your only employer. You can’t switch from one to the other to maintain your status and you will need to obtain a new O-1 visa in order to continue once your contract with your employer is over.

How Long is the O-1 Visa Validity Period?

Here is where the O-1 visa benefits really pay off. Most other visas have a limited duration of stay. The H-1B allows you to stay for six years, the L-1 for five to seven, and the J-1 for an average of five. In contrast, the O-1 offers an initial period of stay of three years, but allows for unlimited extensions. Essentially, you can stay and work in the U.S. as long as you are under O-1 status and meet the requirements for an O-1 extension. These extensions are granted in one-year increments and are not guaranteed, however.

To petition for an O-1 visa extension, you need to file:

  • Another I-129 form along with the filing fee
  • A copy of your I-94 arrival/departure card that has a non-expired departure date, and;
  • A written statement from your agent or employer which states the reason for the extension and why your continued presence in the U.S. is required.

Assistants and Family Members

Another O-1 visa benefit is the fact that you can bring your family along under your O-3 status, which is granted to your spouse and unmarried children under the age of 21. Their visa validity time will be the same as yours, and if you receive an O-1 extension, that extension will be passed to your O-3 family.

Additionally, you can bring along assistants that can be considered essential to your work in the U.S. under O-2 status. Like O-3 family members, their status is dependent on yours. If your status is extended, theirs will be too. If your status is revoked, that reflects on their status as well. Also, O-2 holders can bring their own family members under O-3 status.

Lastly, O-2 and O-3 holders are capable of adjusting their statuses to lawful permanent resident, which we’ll talk about next.

O-1 Visa to Green Card

In the field of immigration law, there’s a term known as “dual intent” which refers to a nonimmigrant visa that allows the holder to pursue lawful permanent resident (green card) status while still a nonimmigrant. Not every visa is a dual intent visa. Some notable exceptions are the J-1, TN, and B-1 visas.

However, the O-1 is among the visas that are considered dual intent, so your status will not be jeopardized or otherwise negatively affected by filing a petition for a green card. For many, this is the most valuable of the O-1 visa benefits.If you are interested in making your stay in the U.S. a permanent one, here is how to go from O-1 status to green card.

You first need to determine which green card you would like to pursue. Because the qualifications are so similar, most O-1 holders choose the EB-1A for aliens with extraordinary achievement or EB-1B for outstanding researchers and professors. Neither of these green cards requires a PERM Labor Certification and the EB-1A does not require a job offer or sponsoring employer, which is a huge advantage and lets you carry over your O-1 visa benefits.You can also look to qualify for the EB-2 green card, but that does require a PERM, job offer, and sponsor.

Once you determine which green card you would like to pursue, you will need to file an I-140 petition. Either you or your employer depending on your green card as your O-1 agent cannot petition for you. Once your petition is received by the USCIS, that date will become your priority date. It will be up to you to stay up-to-date with the latest final action dates on the monthly visa bulletin. Once you see that the final action date for your green card category and country has matched or passed your priority date, a visa number will be made available and you will be able to move onto the next step.

When your priority date is current, you can file an I-485 and appropriate fees to the USCIS to have your status transferred from O-1 to green card status. Depending on which green card you choose and the final action dates in the visa bulletin, this process can take several years or only a few months. Speak with your immigration attorney to find out more about your unique case.

How Our Immigration Attorneys Can Help

With a visa as prestigious as the O-1, the stakes can be high and the potential to make an innocent error can make filing your petition a nerve-wracking experience. Protecting your investment is likely a high priority for you and your case and the best way to do this is to hire an expert to help you take advantage of the O-1 visa benefits.

~ Jeff Harrington, Esq.