The O1 visa is a temporary US visa for those who have extraordinary abilities in fields such as business, science, athletics, art, or education. Besides these fields, those who have been recognized in the film or television industry are also candidates for the O1 visa.

Additionally, the O1 visa states that those aiming to apply for this visa must have been recognized in some way for their achievements in their fields, nationally or internationally.

O1 visas are given on a case by case basis and there is no cap on the number that can be given. They are quite difficult to obtain due to the many requirements.

To get the O1 visa, it is not enough to belong to an organization that promotes higher education and extraordinary qualifications. The US Embassy will consider each person individually and their personal achievements, not the achievements of the group or organization.

What are the Categories of the O1 Visa?

Besides having a few types of the O type visas, the O1 visa has its subtypes depending on the occupation or abilities of the applicant. The O1 visa can be in one of the following types:

  • O1A visa: which is for those who have shown extraordinary abilities in education, business, science, and athletics
  • O1B visa: which is for those who have shown extraordinary abilities in the film or television industry or in the arts

So depending on your profession, you can either qualify for the O1A or O1B visa and you can check by looking into the requirements of each one.

O1 Visa Qualifying Criteria

O1 visa applicants must have a job offer from an employer in the United States to initiate the process of application. So a person from another country cannot start the O1 visa application process but must demonstrate that an employer in the United States is willing to hire them. Their purpose of visit to the US must be to work in a place of employment which requires their extraordinary abilities. If the duties that the applicant will be doing at their place of work in the United States are not similar to the person’s extraordinary skills or abilities, then they will not qualify for the visa.

Demonstrating your extraordinary abilities at the US Embassy

One difficulty with the O1 visa process is being able to demonstrate whether you have the extraordinary abilities and high educational qualifications that the US Embassy requires.

So how do you demonstrate that you have some sort of extraordinary ability in science, business, arts, education or athletics?

Take into consideration whether you have done at least 3 of the following:

  • Received an award such as Pulitzer Prize Grammy, Oscar, Emmy, or an Olympic medal.
  • Received any prize for your excellence in any of those fields.
  • Published articles or work for your specific field.
  • Contributed to original research in your field.
  • You are a member of a highly distinguished association or organization that requires its members to have high professional achievements.
  • Have judged the contribution of others in your field.
  • You have had a high salary for your services in comparison to others in your field.
  • You will be a leading person in production or event which has been reviewed by critics.
  • Have been featured in critics journals, newspapers, or other publications for your great performances.
  • Are part of highly reviewed pieces of production that have high ratings, box office receipts, etc.

If you have checked these requirements and you meet either one of them, then you must submit proof to your employer. Your employer will have to prove that you have extraordinary abilities by submitting the proof that you gave them access to.

How to Apply for the O1 Visa?

To apply for an O1 visa, the employer must take the initial step of the application. Therefore, you will first have to find a job offer in the United States. When an employer says that they want to hire you, then you can start the application process.

Here are the steps that you need to go through when applying for an O1 visa:

  1. Have your employer petition for you.
  2. File Form DS-160.
  3. Pay the O1 visa fee.
  4. Schedule an interview with the US Embassy.
  5. Gather necessary documents.
  6. Attend your interview.

1. Have your employer petition for you

Your employer will have to file a petition to USCIS on your behalf so that you can start working. This is done by sending in Form I-129, Petition for Nonimmigrant Workers to USCIS together with proof that you fulfill the requirements for the O1 visa. These can be certificates, newspaper clippings of your articles, testimonials by a highly acclaimed organization, or other proof that you have the extraordinary abilities that you claim.

For example, if you are claiming to have made scientific contributions to your field, you must:

  • Demonstrate where your work is mentioned.
  • Have proof from your supervisor or colleagues.
  • Send the journal that published your research to USCIS.

The petition must be sent to USCIS at least 45 days before you are scheduled to start working and costs $705 (from October 2, 2020) which your employer must pay. USCIS will review the petition, they will either deny it or approve it by issuing Form I-797, Notice of Action. If USCIS approves the petition, then your employer has completed their part. Now the employee will have to start your application.

2. File Form DS-160

Form DS-160 or Online Nonimmigrant Visa Application is the form that all applicants for nonimmigrant visas fill. The application will require you to put your information and your purpose of the visit to the United States. Depending on the type of visa, it will ask you different questions. In the end, when you have finished the form, you will get a confirmation code that you will use later on in the application process.

3. Pay the O1 visa fee

The O1 visa cost for the application is $190. You must pay this fee to continue with your visa application. Besides the application fee, you might also have to pay other fees depending on your country of residence. After you have paid all the necessary fees, make sure you get the receipts as you will need proof that you have paid them.

4. Schedule an interview with the US Embassy

All applicants older than 13 and younger than 80 years old must go through an interview with the US Embassy when they apply for a visa. That is why you must schedule your interview with an official. Try to schedule your interview as early as possible, since US Embassies might have a high workload and you could end up waiting a long time to complete the process. When you schedule your interview, you will get an interview confirmation letter which you need to bring with you to the Embassy.

5. Gather the necessary documents

Compile a file with necessary documents to prove your case.  Besides the standard required documents for US work visas, your O1 visa file must also contain the following documents:

  • A photograph according to the Photo Requirements.
  • The O1 visa interview letter.
  • The receipts that you have paid all O1 visa fees.
  • Proof that you have a job in the United States (such as a letter from your employer, a contract, ).
  • Proof that you have extraordinary abilities (this should be the same proof that your employer has handed to USCIS).
  • If you are planning to bring your family, you must submit proof of your relationship to them.

6. Attend your interview

After you have compiled your file, you must attend your interview at the scheduled date. Try to be on time and answer any questions that the US Embassy official asks you. Your interview will have a great impact on your application so be truthful.

How Long Does it Take to Process the O1 Visa?

After you have conducted your interview, you will have to wait for the visa to be processed. The usual O1 visa processing time is two to three months. However, if you want to shorten this time, you can pay an additional $1,225 for premium processing. With premium processing, your visa will be processed within 15 days. After the visa has been processed, you will be notified whether you were approved or denied.

How Long is the O1 Visa Valid?

The initial time that your O1 visa will be approved for is 3 years. If after 3 years, you want to extend your visa, your employer must submit proof as to why you need to continue providing your services. They will need to file a new Form I-129. Each extension is for 1-year increments. However, there is no limit to how many times you can apply for extensions.

If you want to change your employers, the new employer must file a new petition. On the other hand, if you want to work for more than one employer at the same time, all employers must file petitions with USCIS.

Can I Get a Green Card With an O1 Visa?

Many candidates who have an O1 visa wonder whether they can go from an O1 visa to a Green Card. The answer is yes. Since you have demonstrated that you have extraordinary abilities, you can file for the Green Card for Extraordinary Abilities or EB-1. However, to apply for this Green Card, you will need much more proof of your abilities and achievements than you submitted for the O1 visa. That is why it is highly important that you can prove to the US government that you have these abilities.

Can I Bring my Dependents With an O1 Visa?

Those who have a valid O1 visa can bring their dependents with them to the United States. Dependents that qualify are the spouse and unmarried children under 21 years old. They can stay in the United States with a valid O3 visa. Dependents will get the O3 visa for the same length as your O1 visa. If you extend the visa or get a Green Card, your dependents will get the same benefits too. O3 visa holders can study in the United States, but they are cannot work.

As an O1 visa holder, you can also bring your supporting staff with you to the United States, with an O2 visa. The O2 visa is designed for the personnel or assisting people of the O1 visa holders