What is an O Visa in the USA? Types, Requirements & Application Process For O-1 Visa

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What is an O Visa in the USA?

For a huge number of experts from different fields who want to work in the United States, is a big challenge that is very difficult to overcome. With unlimited opportunities, high salaries, healthcare, and the freedom to do almost anything you want, the US is truly a dream for many. For professionals with profound knowledge in a specific field of work, a response to the question ‘What is O Visa in the USA?’ will be very helpful. This visa type has proven to be more beneficial than other visas – especially since the O visa allows individuals and their dependents to stay in the US for up to three years at a time.

It’s hard sometimes for non-residents to figure out where to start their journey to start a new life in the US. If you ever needed the motivation to be the best in your field of proficiency, obtaining an O visa and a new start in the USA can be it. In this article I set out details about the O visa and how to apply, let’s begin.

What is an O Visa in the USA?

What is O Visa in the USA?

O visas are non-resident US work visas for individuals who demonstrate outstanding skills in their field. This field covers arts, the motion picture or TV industries, education, sports, business, or the sciences. If everything is done the right way, you can get an O visa by proving you have risen to the top of your profession.

The O visa is usually valid for three years, but it may be shorter if the visa was provided for a specific event or activity. If visa holders are able to continue to showcase abilities in the skill for which they were granted the visa, visa extensions may be extended in one-year increments.

Different Types of the O Visas

According to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, O visas include three types:

O-1A: Persons with extraordinary skills in the education, sciences, business, or sports (except the arts, motion pictures, or TV industry);

O-1B: Persons with an extraordinary ability in the arts or motion picture or TV industry;

O-2: Persons who will go with an O-1 artist or athlete to support a specific event or performance; 

O-3: Persons who are the spouse or children of O-1 and O-2 visa applicants.

Fortunately, there are no extension limits, so skilled non-residents may repeat to file for extensions on their O-1 visas without having to worry about exhausting a maximum limit.

As the types O-2 and O-3 depend on the O-1 applicant, I’ll outline below all the important information about obtaining O-1 visas.

Benefits of Having an O-1 Visa

The O-1 visa has many advantages over other types of visas. Here they are:

  • With an O-1 visa, you may move to the US and accept an employment position requiring an individual of exceptional ability in your field. There is no need to maintain a foreign home or show intent to come back to your home country while applying for the O-1.
  • As mentioned above, dependents may stay with you as long as you sustain your O-1 visa status.

In addition, if you obtain an O-1 visa and have assistants or workers in your country of residence, then they can also apply for an O-2 visa and may accompany and help you in the United States.

  • O-1 status varies from other employment visas since it applies to diverse work categories. For example, H-1B visa apply imposes restrictions on professionals and cannot apply to athletes or entertainers. Sometimes the O visa is applied by non-immigrant workers, with extraordinary ability, who exceeded the limit of the annual H-1B quota. This is because the O visa is not limited numerically by an annual quota.
  • An O-1 Visa holder has the benefit of having a right to work despite the J-1 Visa two-year foreign residency requirement.
  • An O-1 visa makes it possible to travel freely in and out of the United States as often as you want. This is especially useful for digital nomads and constant travelers who have business worldwide.
  • The O-1 visa allows its holders to be involved in more fields of work than other visas, such as the H or L visa types.

Qualifications and Eligibility for O-1 Visas

General Visa Requirements

Before we go any further into the specifics of each type of O-1 visa, let’s take a look at some of the general requirements that all O-1 visa holders must meet.

Although it’s easier to get than you might think, the O-1 sets a high standard with its requirements, which is why you must review them carefully before applying.

Individuals cannot petition themselves for O visa status. An employer, U.S. US citizen, agent, or business partner must petition for O visa status for the foreign beneficiary. Generally, the US is checking in a petition three types of criteria:

  1. Initial or primary criteria – or criteria that are not based on true facts, such as whether the applicant has an Olympic gold medal or has a book published.
  2. Opinion letters were written by experts (journalists), who are not within the beneficiary’s circle of influence, which means that they are experts who can look at the primary evidence to determine if the applicant meets the necessary skill and requirement criteria.
  3. Proof convincing in scholarly criteria (initial or primary) OR the expert opinion letters.

Finally, in order to begin the process of applying for an O-1 visa, individuals must have already been offered a job by a US employer. However, this offer does not have to be signed by both parties in order to establish in case of an oral agreement. 

Applying for an O-1A Visa

As a reminder, the O-1A visa is primarily meant for individuals applying in the fields of science, education, business, or athletics, and its requirements are thus tailored to those fields. Therefore applicants must first present evidence that they were awarded a major, internationally known award – such as the Nobel Prize or an Olympic Medal. If they can’t do it, they must meet three of the following criteria:

1. the beneficiary has received national or international awards or prizes of excellence in their field. 

2. they’re a member of associations whose memberships require outstanding achievement, judged by nationally or internationally recognized experts in the individual’s specific field. To qualify under O-1 requirements, the association(s) has to be a minimum requirement to become a member of the association.

3. the person’s work from their specific professional area has been featured in professional and credible trade publications and/or major media.

4. the applicant has, in some capacity, professionally judged others in the same or a closely related field.

5. the applicant has articles or books published in notable trade publications. The US Immigration Service wants to see pieces that are scholarly or technical like an article or book, so blogs won’t work.

6. the applicant has made original scientific, academic, or business contributions of major significance in their respective field.

7. the applicant has served in a leading capacity for highly regarded organizations or establishments.

8. they receive a high salary for their skilled services.

The more criteria that you can prove you meet, the more likely you are to be approved. 

No worries, if some of your achievements were not presented to a wide audience, you may redress this situation. One of the options is a PRnews service. It includes an impressive catalog of credible media outlets, where you may contact directly journalists, who will estimate your work and publish articles about your merits.

Applying for O-1B Visas

The O-1B visa is meant for persons with exceptional talent in the motion picture, arts, or TV industries. However, the process and requirements for this visa will vary depending on whether or not you are part of the motion picture and TV industry.

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With extraordinary ability in the arts, not including motion picture or TV industry:

If you’re not applying for an O-1B visa as someone with exceptional talent in the TV or motion picture industries, then you’ll need to stick to the following criteria.

To obtain an O1-B visa, a person must show proof that he or she has been nominated for – or received – significant awards such as a Grammy. If not, they must be able to present evidence, as a minimum, three of the following criteria:

  1. the applicant has performed and will perform services as a lead or starring participant in productions having a prominent reputation as proved by critical reviews or other published materials by or about the beneficiary in credible newspapers, trade journals, contracts, magazines, publications, or endorsements.
  2. the beneficiaries have received national or international recognition for their achievements as proved by critical reviews or other published materials by or about the beneficiary.
  3. the applicant has performed and will perform in a lead, flagship, or critical role for organizations that have an excellent reputation as evidenced by articles in newspapers, trade journals, publications, or testimonials.
  4. there’s proof of major commercial or critically acclaimed achievements as can be shown by title, rating, standing in the field, box office receipts, motion picture or TV ratings, and other successes published in well-known newspapers or other media outlets.
  5. the beneficiary has received significant recognition for achievements from organizations, critics, government agencies, or other experts in the industry that the person is engaged in; reviews must perform the author’s authority, professionalism, and knowledge of the person’s achievements.
  6. the beneficiary may show proof that they have or will have a high salary or other substantial remuneration.

If the requirements listed do not apply to the beneficiary’s occupation, the applicant may provide comparable proof, but they should seek professional guidance when doing so.

Also, for the US Immigration Service, the field of arts includes fine arts, visual arts, culinary arts, performing arts, directors, choreographers, conductors, orchestrators, coaches, musical supervisors, costume designers, makeup artists, flight masters, set designers, lighting designers, sound designers, and stage technicians. “Arts” are not limited to this list and may include other fields of work that are justified.

With extraordinary ability in the motion picture or TV industry:

Requirements for O1-B visas for persons in this category are the same as the previously mentioned requirements for the O-1B visa. However, unlike the criteria for artists in the non-motion picture or TV industry category, the legislation does not clearly permit the use of comparable evidence for the previously listed criteria.

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Does it matter if there is published material in professional or major trade publications or major media about you which relates to your work in the field?

Stephanie O’Quigley, PR Director, Podcast Host, and Social Media Influencer

I am a publicist with over 9 years of experience and have had two O1 visas, and am in the process of my third.

“Absolutely! With the O1 Visa, you must show evidence of your
‘extraordinary ability’ being recognized by national or international
acclaim. This can include awards, scholarships, speaking engagements, and of course, published press coverage in the media that support your “extraordinary ability”. This press coverage needs to be associated with the industry you are pursuing and must include information about your line of work.”

Application Process For O-1 Visa

Before you start the application process, you must decide whether an O-1A or an O-1B visa fits your abilities. And then you may proceed with applications:

  1. You must create a petition via Form I-129.

The following documentary evidence must be fulfilled with your Form I-129:

  • an employment contract

A copy of your written contract with the person or entity that will employ you must be provided to the USCIS (the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service). USCIS accepts oral agreements if you can provide different elements confirming their authenticity. These elements include emails between both parties, a written summary of the terms of the agreement, etc. The summary must include what terms were offered by the employer and what terms were accepted by the employee.

These summaries do not have to be signed by both parties in order to fix the terms of the oral agreement. 

  • itineraries

The USCIS wants to see the details about the events or activities that you will participate in. Plus they want to know the start and end dates of such events and activities, and where you are going to participate. So you will have to provide a copy of an itinerary of each activity or event, if relevant.

  • proof of your extraordinary ability

I listed them in detail in the previous sections. But here, take a look at a list of various types of documents that can be submitted in support of an O visa petition to prove that the petitioner is a petitioner of extraordinary ability:

  • Degree certificates and evaluation reports of the alien;
  • Articles, presentations, performances, publications, invitations to conferences for the applicant as well as citations of such publications;
  • Reviews about the alien’s work by others in the alien’s field;
  • Requests for reprints of alien’s publications;
  • Evidence of awards or honors received;
  • Evidence of membership in professional associations;
  • Proof of alien’s achievements, either individually or as a part of a group, as the judge of the work of others in the field;
  • Critical comments, reviews, press releases, publications contracts, or endorsements;
  • Box office receipts or record, compact disk, or evidence of the video sales;
  • Applicant’s CV;
  • Reference letters from experts in the alien’s field describing his status as an “alien of extraordinary ability”.

The listing above is not ultimate and other forms of evidence may be used.

2. Later on, you will need to complete a visa consultation. During this consultation, a written advisory review is required from a peer group or individual with expertise in the beneficiary’s field of skill.

The advisory review must present whether the individual skills as an alien of extraordinary ability and whether such extraordinary abilities are required for the activities to be performed by the applicant. If the alien is seeking an O-1B visa, the advisory review must come from an appropriate labor union and a management organization with expertise in the individual’s field of ability.

When the consultation is finished, the applicant needs to submit the consultation to USCIS. From there, the petitioner should pay fees ($460) and wait for the approval.

O-1 Visa Processing Time

After conducting the interview, you must wait for the visa application to be processed. Typically, it takes like 2-3 months for the O-1 visa process. But there is another option, if you’d like to shorten this time, you can pay an additional fee for premium processing. Premium processing ensures your visa will be processed within 15 days.

When your petition has been approved, it’s time to apply for an O-1 visa at the US consulate in your home country. When preparing documents for your O-1 visa application, you’ll need to submit:

  • your passport
  • form DS-160 (the nonimmigrant visa application), without any application fee
  • a recent photography
  • a full copy of the O-1 petition, including copies of all supporting documentation 
  • the approval letter (Form I-797) of the O-1 petition.

Alternatives To O-1 Visa?

The O-1 is very similar to the EB1-1 Extraordinary Ability Green Card. However, it is also worth noting that the permanent residency option, that gives the Green Card, requires evidence of more perpetual achievement. If you can’t conform to that standard, you may look at the EB2 (Exceptional ability) or EB3 (Labor Certification) Green Cards.

Summary: What is an O Visa in the USA?

Obtaining an O-1 visa might seem like a difficult, long-term, and expensive process. While that’s probably true, it’s still worth it, if it’s the most logical fit for your needs. All the more, you may significantly facilitate this process with help of lawyers, media agencies, and consultants.

The O-1 visa is perfect for business professionals who showcase profound skills in their area and wish to work in the US. Obtaining an O-1 visa can be your first step to bright future pursuing opportunities in the United States and to further excel in your professional field.

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