The O-1 visa is a nonimmigrant visa for individuals with extraordinary ability in the sciences, arts, education, business, or athletics, or who have a demonstrated record of extraordinary achievement in the motion picture or television industry and have been recognized nationally or internationally for those achievements, according to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Some immigrants choose an O-1 visa as an alternative to H-1B work in the U.S. This article explains the eligibility and your employment options under the O-1 visa.
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What is extraordinary ability or achievement?
The USCIS defines extraordinary ability or achievement in regard to the related field as follows.
- O-1A: A level of expertise indicating that the person is one of the small percentages who have risen to the very top of the field of endeavor.
- O-1B (Arts): A high level of achievement in the field of arts as demonstrated by a degree of skill and recognition substantially above that ordinarily encountered to the extent that a person described as prominent is renowned, leading or well-known in this field.
- O-1B (MPTV): A very high level of accomplishment in the motion picture or television industry, as demonstrated by a degree of skill and recognition significantly above that ordinarily encountered to the extent that the person is recognized as outstanding, notable or leading in this field.
To receive an O-1 Visa, you seek to continue your work in the area of extraordinary ability in the U.S.
Extraordinary Ability in Sciences, Education, Business, or Athletics: O-1A
You have extraordinary ability in the sciences, education, business, or athletics, which has been demonstrated by sustained national or international acclaim.
Extraordinary Ability in Arts: O-1B Arts
You have extraordinary ability in the arts, which has been demonstrated by sustained national or international acclaim.
Extraordinary Achievement in Motion Picture or Television Industry: O-1B MPTV
You have a demonstrated record of extraordinary achievement in motion picture or television productions.
Application requirements for an O-1 Visa
A U.S. employer or agent or foreign employer through a U.S. agent needs to file Form I-129, Petition for Nonimmigrant Worker on your behalf together with the required evidence according to the instructions. They cannot file the petition over one year prior to when they need your services but should file the form at least 45 days before the date of employment to avoid delays. The petitioner is the U.S. employer or agent who files your petition. The beneficiary is the subject of the O-1 Visa.
In addition to Form I-129, the below evidence also needs to be submitted:
- Consultation: A written advisory opinion from a peer group (including labor organizations) or a person with expertise in your area of ability.
For O-1B (MPTV), the consultation must come from an appropriate labor union and a management organization with expertise in your area of ability. If your employer or agent can demonstrate that an appropriate peer group does not exist, then the USCIS will base their decision on the evidence the petitioner submits in support of the Form I-129.
- Contract: A copy of any written contract between you and the petitioner or a summary of the terms of an oral agreement under which you will be employed if there is no written contract.
- Itineraries: An explanation of the nature of the events or activities, the beginning and ending dates for the events or activities, and a copy of any itinerary for the events or activities, if applicable.
- Evidence demonstrating O-1 eligibility.
Provide evidence that you have received a major internationally recognized award (e.g., Nobel Prize) or at least three of the following evidence.
- You received nationally or internationally recognized prizes or awards for excellence in the field of endeavor.
- You have been a member of associations in the field for which classification is sought, which demand outstanding achievements of their members, as judged by recognized national or international experts in their disciplines or fields.
- You have appeared in published material in professional or major trade publications or major media relating to your work in the field for which classification is sought, which must include the title, date and author of such published material with translation if applicable.
- You have participated on a panel, or individually, as a judge of the work of others in the same or in an allied field of specialization for which classification is sought.
- You have original scientific, scholarly, or business-related contributions of major significance in the field.
- You have written scholarly articles in the field, in professional journals, or in other major media;
- You have been employed in a critical or essential capacity for organizations and establishments that have a distinguished reputation.
- You have either commanded a high salary or will command a high salary or other remuneration for services, as evidenced by contracts or other reliable evidence.
O-1B (applicable to both Arts and MPTV)
Provide evidence that you have received, or been nominated for, a significant national or international award or prize in the particular field (e.g., an Academy Award, Emmy, Grammy, or Director’s Guild Award) or at least three of the following evidence.
- You have performed, and will perform, services as a lead or starring participant in productions or events with a distinguished reputation, as evidenced by critical reviews, advertisements, publications or more.
- You have achieved national or international recognition for achievements, as evidenced by critical reviews or other published materials by or about you in major newspapers, trade journals, magazines or other publications.
- You have performed, and will perform, in a lead, starring or critical role for organizations and establishments that have a distinguished reputation, as evidenced by articles in newspapers, trade journals, publications or testimonials.
- You have a record of major commercial or critically acclaimed successes, as evidenced by such indicators as title, rating, standing in the field, box office receipts, motion pictures or television ratings and other occupational achievements reported in trade journals, major newspapers or other publications.
- You have received significant recognition for achievements from organizations, critics, government agencies, or other recognized experts in the field in which you are engaged. Such testimonials must be in a form that clearly indicates the author’s authority, expertise and knowledge of your achievements.
- You have either commanded a high salary or will command a high salary or other substantial remuneration for services in relation to others in the field, as evidenced by contracts or other reliable evidence.
USCIS states that the above requirements are not the standard for the classification, but are used to establish whether the standard is met. If you have provided evidence satisfying at least three criteria, it does not necessarily mean you are eligible for the O-1 classification. Rather, the USCIS will review your case holistically to decide if you meet the relevant standard.
USCIS can also revoke your case at any point. For more information, please go to the Revocation section on the USCIS website.
O-1 Visa processing time and application costs
The filing fee for I-129 is $460. Check out the USCIS website on Form I-129 to see filing instructions.
You also need to pay a visa processing fee when you apply for the visa and fill out the form DS-160. For petition-based nonimmigrant visas like O visa, the current filing fee is $205.
If you are currently in the U.S. with another nonimmigrant status and haven’t left the country, you don’t need to pay for the DS-160 fee as you request for a change of status, according to Rakhel Milstein, an immigration lawyer at the Milstein Law Group.
Milstein says that there is no standard processing time for O-1. The USCIS usually reaches a decision in two to four months. You can also file and pay $2,500 for premium processing, and you will get a decision within 15 days.
Employment options for O-1 Visa holders
All your work must be related to the field for which you have sought the classification, so you cannot work any side jobs unrelated to this field, according to Milstein. Freelance is also prohibited under O-1, she adds.
There are no limitations on how many employers you have. If you intend to work for multiple employers, you should have an agent file your Form I-129.
Can I transfer O-1 Visa to another employer?
If you intend to change your employer, the new employer or agent should file the Form I-129 to authorize the new employment and request to extend your stay, if applicable.
Travel restrictions with O-1 Visa
You can travel for however long and however often you want once your O-1 visa is approved, according to Visa Nation, an immigration law firm. There are no limitations on the period you can be abroad.
When you return to the U.S., bring the following documents.
- Your passport valid for at least six months longer than your O-1 visa expiration date
- A valid O-1 visa as stamped in your passport
- I-797 (approval notice for your O-1 visa)
- Your updated employment letter, including your dates of employment, job description and salary to show that you are still currently employed as an O-1 holder.
If you are in the U.S. with a valid nonimmigrant visa, you can travel while waiting for your O-1 to be approved. However, once you leave the country, you will break the request for change of status. You should wait for USCIS to approve your O-1 classification and go to a U.S. consulate abroad to get your visa stamp, according to Milstein. Then, you can reenter the U.S. with your O-1 visa.
How long is an O-1 Visa valid?
The initial period of stay for an O-1 visa is three years. But the job you get determines your period of stay. For example, if you get a one-year job offer, then you will get a one-year visa.
You may be admitted to the country for the validity period of the petition, plus a period of up to 10 days before the period begins and 10 days after it ends. You can only work during the valid period of the petition. Unlike some other nonimmigrant visas like an F-1 academic visa, you do not have a 60-day grace period for O-1.
Can I extend my stay in the U.S. with an O-1 Visa?
In the case that you want to extend your stay to continue or complete the same event, your petitioner should file a new Form I-129, a copy of your Form I-94 and an explanation of the reasons for the extension to the USCIS. You may be granted a year of extension.
Your employer or agent can file a new I-129 for you for up to three years to extend your stay as long as you have a new project or event with the same employer or you have a new employer.
There is no limit on the number of extensions your petitioner can file for you.
If you are currently already in the U.S. with another valid nonimmigrant status, you usually don’t need to leave the country to change your status to O-1. Your petitioner should file the Form I-129 before your current status expires and notify the USCIS of your change of status.
Also Read: How To Extend A Nonimmigrant Tourist Visa
I am toward the end of my current O-1 visa and am waiting for my new O-1 visa to be approved. Can I stay in the U.S.?
You are allowed to stay if you ask for an extension of status and can continue working for the same employers for up to 240 days, as long as your petitioner filed a timely O-1 petition, Milstein says. However, you can’t work with any new employers that are added to your new O-1 case that’s still in process.