Aliens with Extraordinary Ability (O Visas)

Overview

The O-1 nonimmigrant visa is for the individual who possesses extraordinary ability in the sciences, arts, education, business, or athletics, or who has a demonstrated record of extraordinary achievement in the motion picture or television industry and has been recognized nationally or internationally for those achievements.

The O nonimmigrant classification is commonly referred to as:

  • O-1A: individuals with an extraordinary ability in the sciences, education, business, or athletics (not including the arts, motion pictures or television industry)
  • O-1B: individuals with an extraordinary ability in the arts or extraordinary achievement in motion picture or television industry
  • O-2: individuals who will accompany an O-1, artist or athlete, to assist in a specific event or performance.  For an O-1A, the O-2’s assistance must be an “integral part” of the O-1A’s activity. For an O-1B, the O-2’s assistance must be “essential” to the completion of the O-1B’s production. The O-2 worker has critical skills and experience with the O-1 that cannot be readily performed by a U.S. worker and which are essential to the successful performance of the O-1
  • O-3: individuals who are the spouse or children of O-1’s and O-2’s

General Eligibility Criteria

To qualify for an O-1 visa, the beneficiary must demonstrate extraordinary ability by sustained national or international acclaim and must be coming temporarily to the United States to continue work in the area of extraordinary ability.

Extraordinary ability in the fields of science, education, business or athletics means a level of expertise indicating that the person is one of the small percentage who has risen to the very top of the field of endeavor.

Extraordinary ability in the field of arts means distinction.  Distinction means a high level of achievement in the field of the arts evidenced by a degree of skill and recognition substantially above that ordinarily encountered to the extent that a person described as prominent is renowned, leading, or well-known in the field of arts.

To qualify for an O-1 visa in the motion picture or television industry, the beneficiary must demonstrate extraordinary achievement evidenced by a degree of skill and recognition significantly above that ordinarily encountered to the extent the person is recognized as outstanding, notable or leading in the motion picture and/or television field.

Application Process O-1 Visa

The petitioner should file Form I-129, Petition for Nonimmigrant Worker, with the USCIS office listed on the form instructions.  The petition may not be filed more than one year before the actual need for the alien’s services.

Agent for Multiple Employers

Please note that a petitioner who will be filing as an agent for multiple employers must establish that it is duly authorized to act as an agent for the other employers.  Additionally, agents filing I-129 petitions for multiple employers must include with the petition:

  • Supporting documentation including a complete itinerary of the event or events which specifies the dates of each service or engagement, the names and addresses of the actual employers, and the names and addresses of the establishments, venues, or locations where the services will be performed
  • Contracts between the actual employers and the beneficiary; and
  • An explanation of the terms and conditions of the employment with required documentation. 
    Once the visa petition is approved by USCIS, the beneficiary can apply at a U.S. embassy or consulate for the visa.  Department of State (DOS) establishes visa application processing and issuance fees.  For more information on visa application processing and issuance fees, see the “Department of State, travel.state.gov” link to the right.

Agent Performing the Function of an Employer

An I-129 petition filed by an agent performing the function of an employer must include:

  • The contractual agreement between the agent and the beneficiary which specifies the wage offered and other terms and conditions of employment. This can be a summary of the terms of the oral agreement or a written contract. A contract is not required between the beneficiary and the entities that will ultimately use the beneficiary’s services.
  • A petition which requires the alien to work in more than one location must include an itinerary with the dates and locations of work. There are no exceptions to the itinerary requirement when the petition is filed by an agent performing the function of an employer. However, USCIS does give some flexibility to how detailed the itinerary must be and does take into account industry standards when determining whether the itinerary requirement has been met.  As such, the itinerary should at a minimum indicate what type of work the beneficiary will be engaged, where, and when this work will take place.
  • Please note that USCIS relies on the contractual agreement that must be provided with the petition to determine whether the agent is functioning as the employer of the beneficiary.   The contractual agreement should establish the type of working relationship between the agent and beneficiary and should clearly lay out how the beneficiary will be paid.   In totality, if the terms and conditions of employment show a level of control over the beneficiary’s work being relinquished to the agent, then the agent may establish that it is performing the function of an employer.   This determination will be on a case by case basis and will be based on the contractual agreement, whether written or oral.
  • The petition must be submitted with evidence regarding the wage offered.  However, the regulations do not contain a prevailing wage requirement.  Furthermore, no particular wage structure is required.  A detailed description of the wage offered or fee structure and that the wage offered/ fee structure was agreed upon may satisfy this requirement.

Evidentiary Criteria for O-1A

Evidence that the beneficiary has received a major, internationally-recognized award, such as a Nobel Prize, or evidence of at least (3) three of the following:

  • Receipt of nationally or internationally recognized prizes or awards for excellence in the field of endeavor
  • Membership in associations in the field for which classification is sought which require outstanding achievements, as judged by recognized national or international experts in the field
  • Published material in professional or major trade publications, newspapers or other major media about the beneficiary and the beneficiary’s work in the field for which classification is sought
  • Original scientific, scholarly, or business-related contributions of major significance in the field
  • Authorship of scholarly articles in professional journals or other major media in the field for which classification is sought
  • A high salary or other remuneration for services as evidenced by contracts or other reliable evidence
  • Participation on a panel, or individually, as a judge of the work of others in the same or in a field of specialization allied to that field for which classification is sought
  • Employment in a critical or essential capacity for organizations and establishments that have a distinguished reputation

If the above standards do not readily apply to the beneficiary’s occupation, the petitioner may submit comparable evidence in order to establish eligibility.

Evidentiary Criteria for O-1B

Evidence that the beneficiary has received, or been nominated for, significant national or international awards or prizes in the particular field, such as an Academy Award, Emmy, Grammy or Director’s Guild Award, or evidence of at least (3) three of the following:

  • 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
  • Achieved national or international recognition for achievements, as shown by critical reviews or other published materials by or about the beneficiary in major newspapers, trade journals, magazines, or other publications
  • Performed and will perform in a lead, starring, or critical role for organizations and establishments that have a distinguished reputation as evidenced by articles in newspapers, trade journals, publications, or testimonials.
  • A record of major commercial or critically acclaimed successes, as shown by such indicators as title, rating or standing in the field, box office receipts, motion picture or television ratings and other occupational achievements reported in trade journals, major newspapers or other publications
  • Received significant recognition for achievements from organizations, critics, government agencies or other recognized experts in the field in which the beneficiary is engaged, with the testimonials clearly indicating the author’s authority, expertise and knowledge of the beneficiary’s achievements
  • A high salary or other substantial remuneration for services in relation to others in the field, as shown by contracts or other reliable evidence

If the above standards do not readily apply to the beneficiary’s occupation in the arts, the petitioner may submit comparable evidence in order to establish eligibility (this exception does not apply to the motion picture or television industry).

O-2 Application  Process

The petitioner must file a petition with USCIS for the O-2 visa.  The petitioner should file Form I-129, Petition for Nonimmigrant Worker, with the USCIS office listed on the form instructions.  An O-2 alien must be petitioned for in conjunction with the services of the O-1 artistic or athletic alien.  The petitioner may not file the Form I-129 more than one year before the O nonimmigrant will begin employment.

Post Petition Approval

Once the visa petition is approved for O-1/O-2 by USCIS, the beneficiary can apply at a U.S. embassy or consulate for the visa.  Department of State (DOS) establishes visa application processing and issuance fees.

Period of Stay/Extension of Stay

Initial Period of Stay

Extension of Stay

Up to 3 years

USCIS will determine time necessary to accomplish the initial event or activity in increments of up to 1 year.

 

As an O nonimmigrant, the beneficiary may be admitted to the United States for the validity period of the petition, plus a period of up to 10 days before the validity period begins and 10 days after the validity period ends.  The beneficiary may only engage in authorized employment during the validity period of the petition.

Family of O-1 and O-2 Visa Holders

Any accompanying or following to join spouse and children under the age of 21 may be eligible to apply for an O-3 nonimmigrant visa, subject to the same period of admission and limitations as the O-1/O-2 nonimmigrant.  They may not work in the United States under this classification, but they may engage in full or part time study on an O-3 visa.

Changing Employers

If you are an O-1 nonimmigrant in the United States and you want to change employers, then your new employer must file a Form I-129 with the USCIS office listed on the form instructions.
If the petition was filed by an agent, an amended petition must be filed with evidence relating to the new employer and a request for an extension of stay.

Material Change in Terms and Conditions of Employment

If there has been any material change in the terms and conditions of the beneficiary’s employment or the beneficiary’s eligibility, the petitioner must file an amended petition on Form I-129 with the Service Center where the original petition was filed.

Return Transportation

If the employment of an O nonimmigrant beneficiary is terminated for reasons other than voluntary resignation, the employer must pay for the reasonable cost of your return transportation to the O nonimmigrant’s last place of residence before entering into the United States. If an agent filed the petition for the employer, the agent and the employer are equally responsible for paying these costs.