The O1 visa for the US is a non-immigrant type of visa, which is issued to foreign nationals who have exceptional abilities or achievements in their field.

Because it is aimed at individuals in science, education, or the arts, it is also referred to as an extraordinary ability visa or an artist’s visa.

Who Can Apply for an O1 Visa?

You can apply for an O1 visa if you are someone who is accomplished in your field of work and have extraordinary abilities or achievements. There are two types of O1 visas, depending on your field of expertise – the O1A and O1B:

O1 Visa Qualifying Criteria

To qualify for an O1 visa, you must meet the following criteria, depending on your field of expertise:

  • For science, education, business or athletics: You must have expertise that distinguishes you from others in the field. In other words, you must be one of the “top” percentages.
  • For figures in the field of arts: You need to be distinguished in the field of arts and have higher achievements than most. For example, you should be a renowned, leading, or well-known figure in the field – someone who has.
  • For figures in the motion picture or television industry: You need distinction – for example, being recognized as someone with a higher degree of skill than others, and who is a leading, notable figure in the field.

Additionally, you must be travelling to the United States to work in your field of expertise for a temporary period of time.

How to Apply for the O1 Visa?

The steps you and your employer must take when applying for an O1 visa are:

  1. Your employer files a petition with the USCIS on your behalf.
  2. You file Form DS-160. This is the electronic application form that everyone who applies for a US visa has to file.
  3. You pay the O1 visa fees.
  4. You schedule an appointment for a visa interview with the nearest US mission.
  5. Gather the required documents.
  6. Attend the interview at the US Embassy or Consulate and submit the documents.

Find the application steps detailed below.

1.  Petition at the USCIS

Your employer or agent in the United States must complete and file Form I-129, Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker to the USCISpay the application fee, and provide the necessary documents. The application fee is $460.

They can submit the application to one of the USCIS Service Centers, in California, Nebraska, Vermont, or Texas a minimum of 45 days before the start date of your employment, but no earlier than 1 year.

After the USCIS reviews the petition, they will give your employer/agent the “notice” of their decision. If the decision is positive, then you can begin the application process.

2.  File Form DS-160

The Form DS-160 is an online application form. You can find it at the Consular Electronic Application Center website.

After you have completed the form, you must print out the Confirmation Page, and then attach it to the document file.

3.  Pay the O1 Visa Fee

Everyone who applies for a US visa must also pay a visa fee. Because the O1 visa is petition-based, the application fee is $190. You can pay the fee online or through a bank, but make sure you save the receipt because you need on the day of the visa appointment.

4.  Schedule an Interview

After you complete the Form DS-160, you have to schedule an appointment at the US Embassy. You can do this online, through ustraveldocs.com if you’re applying from Asia, or ais.usvisa-info.com if you are applying from elsewhere.

5.  Gather the Necessary Documents

You must gather the necessary documents for your O1 visa application in the time between scheduling the interview and the actual date of the appointment. You will need to submit your passport, the visa fee receipt, your employment contract, the notice of decision by the USCIS, proof of your extraordinary abilities in your field, etc.

When applying for an O1 visa, you will need to collect the following documents:

  • A written consultation from someone with expertise on your field. It can be a peer group or a labor/management organization, as relevant to your area of expertise.
  • A copy of the written work contract. The contract must include a summary of the agreement under which you will be employed.
  • A document explaining the activities and events you will participate in. It must include the nature, start and end dates, as well as an itinerary of these activities/events.
  • Proof of your extraordinary abilities or achievements. For example, proof you have received an award, published articles relevant to your field, contributed original research to your field, you are a member of a highly distinguished association or organization or have been paid a high salary for your skills and contribution, etc.

Additionally, when you appear at the American Embassy for your appointment and interview, you should have the following documents with you:

  • Your passport. It must be valid at the time of application and six months after you intend to depart the United States.
  • The DS-160 Form Confirmation Page.
  • The interview Appointment Letter
  • A picture of yourself which is in line with the requirements set by the US Department of State.
  • The I-797 Approval Notice from the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services.
  • Poof you have paid the Machine Readable Visa (MRC) fee.

6.  Attend the Interview

On the date of your appointment, you have to hand in your documents as well as attend an interview with the visa officer. They will ask you questions about your qualifications, how long you have worked in your field, why it is necessary to go to the US to further your career, and other questions along these lines. The interview is one of the most important aspects of your visa application.

After it is over, you will have to wait for the visa to be processed, and you will soon hear about a decision.

Can I Get a Green Card With an O1 Visa?

Since the O1 visa is a non-immigrant visa, it does not lead directly to a Green Card. However, what you can do is switch to an EB-1 visa, which is a Green Card for persons with extraordinary abilities in their field.

Here’s how you can go from an O1 visa to a Green Card.

How Long Does it Take to Process the O1 Visa?

It takes about two to three months for the USCIS to process your O1 visa application. There is also the option of Premium Processing, which will give you an answer in only 15 days, but it costs $1,500 (the price was increased in October 2020 from $1,440). In contrast, the regular processing costs $460.

Can I Bring my Dependents With Me?

Yes, you can bring your dependents with you to the US if you have an O1 or O2 visa. Your family members will have to apply for an O3 visa. The family members who can apply for visa to join you as dependents in the US are:

  • Your spouse
  • Your child under the age of 21

They can apply at the same time as you or after you have already settled in the United States. The application process is similar to that of your own visa, but there is no petition required at the USCIS.

Your family members cannot work in the US under an O3 visa, but they can undergo studies.

How Long is the O1 Visa Valid?

Initially, the O1 visa is valid for a maximum period of three years. Then, if you need to be in the US longer, your employer or agent will have to submit a new application, along with:

  • Form I-129, Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker
  • A copy of your Form I-94, Arrival/Departure Record
  • A statement which explains why the extension is required. In the statement, your employer should explain the activity for which you received the visa initially, and that the extension is needed so you can continue to work in the same activity or manner.

If you want to continue working, but with a different employer, your new employer has to file a new petition as well.

What Are the Alternatives to the O1 Visa?

If you do not qualify for the O1 visa, you may have the following alternatives:

  • H-1B Specialty Occupation Visa. This is one of the most popular US visas, issued to non-US citizens who will work in specialty occupations, such as engineering, healthcare or computer sciences.
  • L-1 Intracompany Transferee Visa. This is the type of visa you need to apply for if you will transfer from a foreign company to a U.S-based company, where you will have a managerial or executive position, or have specialized knowledge.
  • TN Visa. This visa is available to nationals of Mexico and Canada, as part of the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, who will work in engineering, finances, law, or other specialty occupations.
  • One of the P visas.
    • P-1A Athlete Visa. You can apply for this visa if you are an individual athlete or part of a group or a coach, and are coming to the US to partake in a sports event temporarily.
    • P-1B Entertainment Visa. You can apply for this type of visa if you are an entertainer, coming to the US temporarily for a performance.