The O-1 visa forms a group of U.S non-immigrant visas which has been designed for people with extraordinary abilities. Extraordinary abilities can be in various fields, such as business, science, art, education, film or television industry and so on. The O-1 visa group has no cap so no limit of how many people can apply; however, it is incredibly difficult to get due to the many documents needed. For a person to prove that they have an extraordinary ability or that they have some higher education not typically found, you will need to make your case and have a file proving it.
The O-1 visa is divided in several groups of visas targeting different professions and people:
- O-1A visa is for people who have shown extraordinary abilities in fields such as business, athletics, education, and science
- O-1B visa is for people who have shown extraordinary abilities in the arts and television and film industry
- O-2 visa is for the assistants or those accompanying the O-1A or O-1B visa holders
- O-3 visa is for the spouse and children of O-1A, O-1B, and O-2 visa holders
This article will go through the description of the O-1A visa, its requirements, application process, and other details.
What is the O-1A visa?
As described, the O-1A visa was made to allow people with extraordinary abilities in business, education, science, and athletics to come to the U.S. These people will not just visit the country, but will also work. That is why one of the first conditions to getting an O-1A visa is to have a job in the U.S. You must apply and have an offer from an employer anywhere in the U.S to initiate the process of getting this visa.
You can also not just claim that you have extraordinary abilities, but must prove it. This can be through obtaining proof of national or international recognition in your field of work. So you must have won an award or been recognized by a prestigious organization for your contribution.
Additionally, just belonging to an organization which is famous and contributes to various fields is not enough. The U.S Embassy considers each case for the O-1A visa as individual, and does not take into consideration group or organizational achievements. You as an individual have to prove that you have extraordinary knowledge or skills. That is the main difference with other U.S work visas such as the H-1B visa. To get the H-1B visa, you only need to have an employer who is willing to sponsor you, but for the O-1A visa, you must also prove your abilities. That is why it is more difficult to get the O-1A visa rather than other types of work visas.
When you have a job, you must make sure that you will be using your extraordinary abilities in that place of work. You cannot be a successful business person and work in a café. Your place of work must use your knowledge and skills to further advance themselves and you must help them. For example, if you are a Project Manager, you must find a job related to that field. If you find a job that is unrelated to your extraordinary skills, then you do not qualify for the O-1A visa, but should look into getting another type of work visa.
What are the requirements for the O-1A visa?
The O-1A visa has stringent requirements for the eligibility of applicants. The initial one must be that you have found a job and have a valid offer. The second part of your eligibility is to prove your extraordinary abilities. So how do you demonstrate that you have some sort of extraordinary ability in science, business, education or athletics? Take into consideration whether you have done the following:
- Received an award such as Pulitzer Prize or an Olympic medal
- Received any prize for your excellence in any of those fields
- Published articles or work for your specific field
- Contributed with original research in any of the above mentioned fields
- 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
- Have been paid a high salary for your skills and contribution
If you have received an Olympics medal or a Pulitzer Prize then you automatically are eligible to apply for the O-1A visa. However, if you have not, then you must have at least three of the other conditions. The way you can prove them is by handing in your work, testimonials from other people and so on.
How to apply for the O-1A visa?
The O-1A application process requires you and your employer to go through several steps. It is not much different though from other nonimmigrant visas. First, you have to make sure your job offer is valid. The application process starts from your employer, so without your employer willing to sponsor you, there is no chance of getting the O-1A visa.
Have your petition approved
The U.S Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is the institution which must approve you as an employee in the U.S. To do so, your employer must file Form I-129, Petition for Nonimmigrant Workers to them, together with all the documents proving that you have extraordinary abilities and that you fulfill the requirements for the O-1A visa.
The petition must get to USCIS at least 45 days before you have to start your employment. The form filing fees are $460, and this cost must be paid by your employer. USCIS will take a few weeks to review your case and then will send your employer a letter approving or denying you as an employee in the U.S. If your case is approved, you will get Form I-797, Notice of Action. When USCIS approves the petition, your employer has completed their duties. Now it is up to you to continue the application process.
File Form DS-160
Form DS-160, Online Nonimmigrant Visa Application is an online form used for all applicants for nonimmigrant visas. The form has questions regarding your personal information and background, your purpose and intent for visiting the U.S as well as other screening questions to test whether you are eligible for the visa you intend to apply. You must fill this form, and when you submit it, you will get a confirmation page and code which you will need later on in the application process.
Pay the visa fee
The application fee for the O-1A visa is $190. You must pay this fee and any other applicable fees for your country, such as issuance fees. After you have paid your fees, you can continue with your application. You must get the receipts which prove you have completed your payments, since you will need them as documents in your file.
Schedule your visa interview
All those who apply for U.S nonimmigrant visas between the ages of 14 and 79 must go through the interview process with the U.S Embassy. So you must schedule your interview at the Embassy from which you are applying from. Try to schedule it as early as possible, since the Embassy might have a high workload and you might end up having to wait for your turn. When you have scheduled your appointment, you will get an interview confirmation letter. You must bring that letter with you on the day of the interview.
Gather necessary documents
Compile a file with necessary documents to prove your case. This file includes:
- Your valid passport
- A photograph according to the Photo Requirements
- The DS-160 confirmation code
- The visa interview letter
- The receipts that you have paid all fees
- The Form I-797
- Proof that you have a job in the U.S (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 in to USCIS)
- If you are planning to bring your family, you must submit proof of your relationship to them (marriage certificate for your spouse and birth certificates for your children).
Attend your interview
Bring all your documents with you to the U.S Embassy on the day of your interview. You will be asked various questions about your background and what your plans are in the U.S. The interview in an important part in the application process, so try to answer correctly.
How long does it take to process the O-1A visa?
The O-1A processing time is between two to three months. After you have completed your interview, the Embassy will review you case and get back to you with an answer on whether you got your visa or not. If you want to have your visa processed faster, there is the possibility of premium processing for an extra fee of $1,225. With premium processing, you will get a response for your visa within 15 days.
How long is the O-1A visa valid?
The initial time that the Embassy will grant the O-1A visa for is three years. During these three years you can work in the U.S and you can travel in and out of the country as much as you need to. Just make sure you have your Form I-94 with you to grant you entrance into the country.
When the three-year period of validity is close to expiration, your employer can petition again by filing a new Form I-129 to extend your stay. If USCIS approves your extension, it will be for one year. The benefit of the O-1A visa is that the employer can petition for you indefinitely, so as many times as they want to and you will get your visa extended for one year each time.
If you want to switch employers, you must find a new job and your new employer must file a new Form I-129 to USCIS. If you want to work for more than one employer, all of your employers must send petitions to USCIS.
Can I get a Green Card with an O-1A visa?
Going from an O-1A visa to a Green Card is possible. Since you have proven that you have extraordinary abilities for the O-1A visa, you qualify for the Green Card EB-1 which is for people who have high achievements and education. By applying for this type of Green Card, you have a higher chance of getting your permanent citizenship in the U.S.
Can I bring my dependents with an O-1A visa?
Yes, you are allowed to bring your dependents in the U.S when you are on an O-1A visa. Dependents who qualify are your spouse and unmarried children under 21 years old. They can apply for the O-3 visa which is for dependents. With the O-3 visa they are allowed to enroll in full or part time study, but they cannot work. When your O-1A visa is extended, they also have to apply for extensions, and if you get the Green Card, they will also get this benefit.