O-1 Visa Roadmap

The O-‑1 classification is for foreign nationals (FNs) who can demonstrate extraordinary ability in their line of work and are coming temporarily to the U.S. to perform services in their area of expertise. The O category is further broken down into O-‑1A for extraordinary ability in science, education, business, or athletics, O-‑1B for extraordinary achievement in the movie and TV industry, O-‑1B for extraordinary ability in the arts, and O-‑2 for accompanying essential support personnel.

The person entering the U.S. must be coming to work in their field of extraordinary ability or achievement, but extraordinary ability need not be a requirement for the position. The O-‑1 classification has no degree requirement, no numerical or overall time limit, and allows for relatively high flexibility in terms of compensation structure and work arrangements, which can make it a viable alternative for many highly skilled or educated individuals and entrepreneurs from backlogged countries who were not selected in the H-‑1B lottery and don’t have the financial resources for investment-based visa categories.

O-1 Requirements

U.S. immigration law has slightly different definitions and requirements for extraordinary ability, depending on which major category the FN’s work fits into.

In the O-‑1A category for science, education, business, or athletics, extraordinary ability is defined as being at or near the top of one’s field. O-‑1A status can be a great fit for accomplished individuals from a wide array of fields, such as management coaching, product design, tennis, applied cryptography, music technology, event planning, and business development, to give just a few examples.

In the O-‑1B category for the movie and TV industry, the FN must have a record of extraordinary achievement and be recognized as outstanding or leading in the field. This category is mainly used by actors, directors, and other creative or technical professionals working on either side of the camera, e.g., sound designers or makeup artists.

Finally, in the O-‑1B category for the arts, extraordinary ability means “distinction,” as in being considered prominent, renowned, leading, or well-known in the field. In the O-‑1 context, the field of arts encompasses a wide array of creative pursuits, including fine arts, visual and performing arts, culinary arts, design, literature, and more. This makes the O-‑1B category available not just to performing or fine artists, but also to designers, directors, choreographers, novelists, mixologists, chefs, influencers, and many other creative professions.

In proving extraordinary ability, U.S. Immigration wants to see evidence of “sustained national or international acclaim.” In practice, this means that the evidence provided should refer to both past and recent accomplishments to prove that the FN has displayed extraordinary abilities for some time and continues to do so. 

Extraordinary ability in the fields of science, education, business or athletics (O-1A):

There are two ways to demonstrate extraordinary ability in science, education, business, or athletics. The most straightforward route is through receipt of a major internationally recognized award such as a Nobel Prize or an Olympic medal. The more common way is by providing evidence that the FN meets at least three of the following criteria:

  • Receipt of nationally or internationally recognized prizes or awards for excellence in the field of endeavor.
  • Membership in associations in the field that require outstanding achievements of their
  • Articles about the FN’s work, published in major trade publications or media.
  • Participation as a judge of the work of others in the same or allied
  • Evidence of original contributions of major significance in the
  • Authorship of scholarly articles in the field in professional journals or other major media.
  • Evidence of employment in a critical or essential capacity for organizations with a distinguished reputation.
  • Evidence that the FN has or will command a high salary compared to others in the field.

Extraordinary achievement in the movie or TV industry or extraordinary ability in the arts (O-‑1B):

The two ways in which an FN can demonstrate eligibility for the O-‑1B category are (1) through nomination for or receipt of a significant national or international award such as an Oscar, Emmy, Grammy, or Directors Guild of America Award; or (2) by proving that the FN meets at least three of these criteria:

  • Past and future participation in a lead or starring role in productions or events with a distinguished reputation.
  • National or international recognition for achievements in the field as reflected by reviews and articles in major media.
  • Past and future lead, starring, or critical roles for organizations and establishments with a distinguished reputation.
  • A record of major commercial or critically acclaimed successes and other professional achievements.
  • Significant recognition for achievements in the field from organizations, critics, government agencies or other recognized experts.
  • Evidence that the FN has or will command a high salary compared to others in the field.

If an FN has evidence for their extraordinary ability in science, education, business, athletics or in the arts which does not seem to fit within any of these criteria, that evidence may still be submitted as “comparable evidence.” However, this option is not available to those applying in the O-‑1B category for the movie or TV industry.

Documentation

O-1 petitions tend to be quite document-heavy. The petitioner must provide a detailed description of the FN’s extraordinary ability, and every accomplishment mentioned in the petition must be corroborated by objective evidence. The type of supporting documentation will vary from case to case, but frequently contains one or more of the following:

  • Award certificates, along with information about the award’s prestige and criteria for winning.
  • Membership cards, welcome letters, or membership certificates from relevant organizations, along with information about the organization and its membership criteria.
  • Articles or features published in print or online media outlets (newspapers, magazines or trade journals) along with information about the publication’s circulation and relevance.
  • Screenshots or website excerpts evidencing TV, radio, or podcast appearances, along with ratings and other background information.
  • Relevant excerpts from scholarly articles authored by the FN, along with citation records (e.g., Google Scholar) and academic journal rankings.
  • Detailed testimonials from recognized experts in the FN’s field of expertise, along with these experts’ CVs.
  • Detailed letters from previous employers, along with evidence of their distinguished reputation.
  • Employment agreements, income tax returns, earning statements, and salary surveys.
  • Letters, emails, or certificates confirming judging activities for which the FN was chosen based on their expertise.
  • Critical reviews, publicity releases, movie or TV ratings, athletic rankings, etc.

Depending on the nature of the case, deal memos, contracts, consultation letters, itineraries, and other supporting documents may also be required, along with information about the petitioner and the position, event, or performance in the U.S.

Admission

An initial stay is granted for up to three years and can be extended indefinitely in one-year increments. However, in cases where there is a new employer or a new project or event with the same employer, submission of a new O petition asking for a validity period of three years is often the more cost- and time-effective approach.

Family

The O-‑1 or O-‑2 applicant’s spouse and unmarried children under the age of 21 are eligible to apply for O-‑3 status to accompany or join the O-‑1 principal or O-2 support staff in the U.S. While in O-‑3 status, spouses and children may attend school in the U.S. part-time or full-time but are not authorized to work.

Strategies/Options

Entrepreneurs/Founders – The O-‑1 category permits relative flexibility in terms of compensation structure and work arrangements. This can make it an excellent strategy for entrepreneurs and startup founders who want to work for their own enterprise—provided the company’s organizational structure is carefully tailored to ensure compliance with the O-‑1 regulations.

Student entrepreneurs, especially those from STEM fields, who don’t immediately qualify for O-‑1 status upon graduation may be able to use their post-graduation Optional Practical Training (OPT) and STEM extension to build their résumé to meet the eligibility requirements upon OPT completion.

Agents as Petitioners – O-‑1 petitions on behalf of an FN can be filed by a single U.S. employer or by several U.S. employers concurrently. In the alternative, a so-called agent—an individual or entity based in the U.S.—can file an O-‑1 petition on behalf of one or more foreign or U.S.-based employers seeking the FN’s services in the U.S. In this context, the term “agent” means a party who is authorized to act on behalf of others.

O-2 Essential Support Personnel – The O-‑2 classification is available to individuals accompanying and assisting the O-‑1 principal as essential support staff. To qualify for O-‑2 status, the applicant must:

  • Significantly assist the O-‑1 principal or be an integral part of the actual
  • Possess critical skills and experience that any immediately available U.S. worker would not be able to match.
  • In movies and television, have a longstanding working relationship with the O-‑1 principal or be essential to pre- and postproduction work performed in and outside the U.S.

The O-‑2 classification is only available in the fields of athletics, the arts, and the movie and TV industries. Typical examples are a PGA golfer’s caddy, a classical singer’s accompanist(s), or a movie director’s production crew consisting of her director of photography, camera operators, sound designer, makeup artist, and other essential crew members.

Advisory Opinions/Consultations – In general, O petitions must include a consultation, i.e., a written advisory opinion, from a U.S. peer group, labor, and/or management organization in the FN’s field of expertise. In areas where there is no appropriate peer group or labor union, the advisory opinion can be from a recognized expert in the field, or the petitioner can ask that the petition be adjudicated based on the evidence submitted. The advisory opinion should be complimentary in tone and confirm the FN’s extraordinary ability and achievements or, at the very least, express that there is no objection to the petition’s approval. Petitioners for individuals in the movie and TV industries must submit two advisory opinions, one from the appropriate labor union (e.g., the Directors Guild of America or Screen Actors Guild) and one from a management organization (most commonly from AMPTP, the Association of Motion Picture and Television Producers). The consultation requirement does not just apply to O-1 principals but also to O-‑2 accompanying support personnel.

Quasi Dual Intent – U.S. Immigration regulations make clear that O status must be temporary in nature. However, O-‑1 holders are not required to maintain a residence outside the U.S. to demonstrate temporary intent. In fact, FNs in O-‑1 status and their O-‑3 dependents are allowed to demonstrate an intent to live and work permanently in the U.S. However, once an I‑485 green card application is pending, O-‑1 holders can no longer use their O visa for foreign travel, making their situation slightly more restrictive than that of classifications with true dual intent (H-‑1B and L-‑1). O-‑2 holders and their O-‑3 dependents are not allowed to have dual intent and must maintain a foreign residence.

Legal and policy sources:

Immigration policies and regulations are complex and frequently subject to change. The information contained in this roadmap is intended to provide you with a general overview and may not address your particular circumstances and needs. Serotte Law will assist you with the application and documentation process and answer any questions you may have about the O‑1 classification. Request a consultation or give us a call at 888-875-8110.

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