The U.S. Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) outlines special visa categories for special immigrants. Special immigrants include people like religious workers and acclaimed entertainers and artists, among others. The O-1 visa is for extraordinarily accomplished individuals in business, education, sports, and the arts. This article is a deep dive into the O-1 visa, including its requirements, application process, filing costs, and other considerations.
Written by Jonathan Petts.
Updated July 19, 2022
O visas are short-term work visas for foreign nationals doing specialized work in the United States. They are for people with extraordinary abilities in science, the arts, education, business, or athletics. This visa is a nonimmigrant visa. It is not available for those seeking a green card or permanent residence.
There are three categories within the O visa: O-1A, O-1B, and O-3.
The O-1A visa is for people with extraordinary abilities in science, education, business, or athletics.
The O-1B visa is for people with extraordinary achievements in the field of arts or the motion picture and television industry. However, these people must have national or international acclaim. For example, Oscar winners would qualify.
Finally, the O-3 visa is for spouses and dependents of an O-1 visa holder. Dependents are unmarried children under age 21. Although these family members can come to the United States, they cannot work for a U.S. employer with only O-3 status.
O-2 visas are also available for anyone who is an “integral part” of your activity. For example, if you are an athlete and need your coach, they could get an O-2 visa.
As an O visa holder, you receive these benefits:
You can legally work in the United States with an O visa sponsor. If you want to switch employers, you must get a new visa.
The visa processing time is usually short.
O visas last as long as your particular event, up to three years. Unlimited extensions are available in one-year increments.
You and your family can travel abroad or stay continuously in the United States as long as your visa is valid.
What Are the O-1 Visa Requirements?
You either need to have achievement at the level of a Nobel Prize or Olympic medal, or you need to meet at least three of these eligibility requirements for an O-1 petition:
Recipient of a lesser nationally or internationally recognized prize or award for excellence in your field of expertise
Membership in associations in your field that require outstanding achievement of their members, as judged by experts in your field of endeavor
Authorship of scholarly articles in professional journals or major media
Published material about you in professional or major trade publications or other major media
Participation as a judge of the work of others in the field (such as a reviewer of articles or a member of an advisory panel)
Original contributions of major significance to your field. You will have to gather five or six letters or affidavits from colleagues who can confirm your contributions. Your “peer group” must verify your outstanding qualifications.
Serving in an essential role for organizations or establishments with a distinguished reputation
Having a high salary or other high remuneration for your work, as compared to others in your field
How Much Does It Cost To File an O-1 Visa Application?
To file an O-1 petition, you must pay the application fee of $190. You should save your receipt for your visa appointment. You can pay online or through a bank.
What Is the O-1 Visa Application Process?
There are six primary steps within the application process for O-1 status.
First, your employer must submit a petition to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). They will file Form I-129, Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker, which costs $460. They must submit this application at least 45 days before your employment date starts, but not before one year. Your employer should send this application to one of USCIS’s service centers.
After USCIS approves your petition, they will send your employer an approval notice. You then must file Form DS-160. This form is an online application through the Department of State for a nonimmigrant visa.
Third, you will pay the $190 fee. Save the receipt for your interview.
Afterward, you need to gather the required documents. When applying for O-1 visa status, you need to present this evidence:
A written consultation from someone with a high level of expertise in your field. It could be a peer group or management organization relevant to your field.
A copy of your written work contract
A document explaining the activities and events you plan to participate in
Record of extraordinary achievements. For example, this could be proof you received an award, published relevant articles, contributed original research, or more.
Furthermore, during your visa interview at a U.S. embassy, you need to show these documents:
A valid passport
Form DS-160 confirmation
Your interview appointment letter
A picture of yourself that meets the Department of State requirements
Your I-797 approval notice from USCIS
Proof of paid fee
Finally, you need to attend the interview. You will need to present the documents and answer the officer’s questions. They will usually ask about your qualifications, how long you have worked in your area of extraordinary ability, and why you need to go to the United States. This interview is critical to your application.
Here are answers to some other common questions about the O-1 visa.
How Long Does It Take To Process the O-1 Visa?
Usually, it will only take two or three months. You can pay an additional $1,500 fee for premium processing. This fee will expedite your application to only 15 days.
Do You Need To Apply for a Visa After USCIS Approves Your Form I-129?
No. If USCIS approves your form, you will automatically receive an O-1 visa. However, O-2 visa holders must apply for a visa after Form I-129’s approval.
What Happens If USCIS Denies My Petition?
USCIS will send you a written notification explaining why they rejected you. Your notice will explain how to appeal and file a motion to reopen the case. You will appeal through the Administrative Appeals Office and file a motion through the USCIS office.
Can My Spouse and Children Work or Attend School?
If you want to bring your spouse or children, they can join you as a beneficiary. Though they cannot work in the United States, they can attend school part time or full time.
Can I Extend My Stay in the United States?
Yes, you can extend your stay by filing Form I-129 again. You will also include your arrival and departure record, Form I-94, and an explanation for your extension. You should describe your original reason for your O-1 visa and why you need an extension.
Applying for a visa can be complicated, but working with a good immigration attorney can make it easier. If you decide to later apply for a green card but can't afford the attorney fees and don't want to handle your case alone, we may be able to help. If you are eligible, our free web app will walk you through the process and help you prepare and file your application with the U.S. government on your own or with a lawyer if you need one. Click "Get Started" to see how we can help make your American dream come true!