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The O visa classification is for individuals who display an extraordinary level of quality, skill, and/or notoriety in given fields. Read below for a complete breakdown of the O Nonimmigrant Visa, featuring the qualifications, application process, and more.

O-1 Visa for Extraordinary Ability

The O-1 Nonimmigrant Visa applies to extraordinary individuals who are well regarded and/or universally recognized in the following areas:

  • Sciences
  • Arts
  • Education
  • Business
  • Athletics
  • Film
  • Television

O Visas Classification

The O visa series is broken down as follows:

  • O-1A:For excellence shown in the fields of the sciences (excluding the arts, read below), education, business, or athletics.
  • O-1B:For excellence shown in the media industries of film or television.
  • O-2:For an individual who must accompany the O-1. This means the O-2 must be needed in the task the O-1 requires their visa for. Either they posses skills and knowledge that the O-1 can’t find in the United States or the The O-1 would be rendered incapable of performing without this O-2.
  • O-3:For a spouse or child of an O-1 or O-2.

General Criteria for Eligibility

Before applying for the O-1 visa, one must first display excellence in their field. This excellence must also equate to widespread, either nationally or internationally. The applicant will be on a temporary residence and continue their work while living in the United States.

The O-1A applicant in question should be at the top of their field in either science, education, business, or athletics.. This means they are one of the few individuals of note in their given homeland.

The O-1B applicant must have distinction and merit in the motion picture, television, or other artistic industries. A high level of skill must be shown, to such a degree that the applicant is considered a world leader in media. This success can be financially, critically, or both. They can be internationally acclaimed or renowned in their country, but they must be seen as a major player worthy of continuing their work in America.

O-1 Visa Application Process

To begin, the applicant must file the Form I-129 Petition for Nonimmigrant Worker document. They will send it to the office listed on the document at least 45 days before their date of employment begins. It is important for the applicant to send their documents as quickly as possible in order to prevent unnecessary delays in workability. This document can be found on the right of the page in the link provided.

In addition to the Form I-129, the petitioner must also provide several legal documents as outlined below.

Consultation

In combination with the I-129 form, applicants for the O-1A must provide a written recommendation from within their field. This can include labor organizations or a peer group.

The O-1B applicant, for motion picture or television, must also provide written consultation. This comes from a labor union and management organization that specializes in the applicant’s field of expertise.

Consultation Exceptions

In the event that no appropriate peer group exists in the applicant’s homeland, the decision will be made based upon their track record. Some applicants may not have the chance to visit with a peer group. In these cases, the quality of their work must be shown to be extraordinary quality.

An exception can also be made for readmission. If the applicant is coming to the United States within two years of their initial visit to provide similar services to what they were previously admitted for, they can submit a waiver. This waiver must be accompanied by a copy of their previous consultation.

Contract Between Applicant and Employer

In addition to the I-129 Form, the applicant must provide a written contract between themselves and the beneficiary. If no such contract exists, then they must provide a summary of the oral agreement which they made for employment.

It should be noted that the USCIS will accept these oral contracts if they fall under the outlined oral agreement terms. Evidence for the oral contract may be provided via: email exchanges between the two parties, written summary of their terms and conditions, or any type of evidence to support the claim of an oral agreement. The summary should include what the employer offered and what the employee (applicant) accepted as their terms for employment. This document does not requires signatures, but it must lay out in full all of the agreed upon terms.

Itineraries

The applicant must also provide a list and explanation of the events or activities they will visit the United States for, as well as a list of the important dates and any supporting flight itinerary. The applicant should provide evidence that there are events of note in their area of expertise that fall under their requested time allotment. This can be a tour, schedule, or other dates of note. For more information, please refer to the “Clarifying Guidance on ‘O’ Petition Validity Period” link on the right side of the page.

Agents

An agent residing within the United States can represent either party. Agents can typically be the employer of the beneficiary, the one who acts on behalf of the employer and/or applicant, or their representative in the legal proceedings. An agent who will act on behalf of either party must demonstrate the authorization to do so. To learn more about the required conditions, refer to the memorandum, “Requirements for Agents and Sponsors Filing as Petitioners for the O and P Visa Classifications,” found on the right.

If an agent is to be used as the intermediary for the visa process under multiple employers, it is required of them to include the following in combination with the I-129 documentation:

  • Proof of contract between agent and employers.
  • Proof of contract between employers and the applicant in question.
  • Supporting documentation, as follows: complete itinerary of event or events with the dates of each engagement highlighted, names and addresses of employers, names and addresses of the location(s) where the applicant’s services are to be used.

After the I-129 is approved by the USCIS, the applicant must go to the United States Embassy to obtain the visa. The fees are to be determined by the US Department of State, in reference to processing and insurance fees. To get an estimate of the fees involved, please refer to the “Department of State, travel.sate.gov” link provided on the right.

O-1A Evidence of Achievement

The applicant in question must be backed by supporting awards. These awards must be internationally recognized, such as the Nobel Prize. At least three of the following should apply to the applicant.

  • Certificate or receipt of internationally recognized prizes of awards that display a high level of achievement in the applicant’s field.
  • Membership in one of the associations that relate to the field. These associations must be highly regarded, wither within the applicant’s country or world-wide.
  • Proof of publication in academic journals, trade publications, newspapers, magazines, or any related media to the field of study.
  • Contributions that had a major impact on the fields of science, education, or business.
  • Large income or salary for services provided within the field.
  • Membership or participation on a panel that judges others in the same field. This qualification may also apply to individual judgment, if it comes highly regarded.
  • High-level employment at one of the leading organizations for the applicant’s chosen field.

There are exceptions to be made if the applicant does not fall under these qualifications. They must submit comparable evidence of industry leading achievement.

O-1B Evidence of Achievement

Within the field of the arts, comparable evidence should support the applicant’s visa. A highly regarded award, such as an Emmy, Grammy, Academy Award, Director’s Guild Award, etc., will show the applicant as well established and highly valuable. The applicant should possess at least three of the following as supporting evidence:

  • Performed or will perform services for distinguished media outlets. This can be either starring or supporting roles in a production. The media outlet can be defined as distinguished by either critical acclaim, publicity releases, publications, contracts, endorsements, or other types of advertisements.
  • Received recognition for their work, either locally or globally. This can mean positive reviews in published journals, newspapers, magazines, or similar media publications. The publication in question must also be considered of a high quality and well-established.
  • The applicant’s track record must be shown in measurable figures. This includes box office receipts, television ratings, estimated motion picture viewership, or other types of achievements gained from their work in the television or film industry. These figures must be backed by an accredited organization.
  • The success of the applicant must also be measured by critical success, government endorsement, or other agencies in the field. These testimonials must directly relate to the applicant and their overall involvement in the project(s). They should also clearly state the value of the beneficiary.
  • A large salary or profit margin gained from the film or television industry. This salary should be shown in contracts and other types of provable documentation.

The above qualifications are only an outline. Some applicants may be able to prove their value in other ways not mentioned here. Exceptions may be made on a case by case basis. However, an expert in the television and film industry should be able to provide the items mentioned above with little difficulty.

Requirements to File an O-1B Petition

The employer based in the United States should file the I-129 and include a written advisory opinion. The applicant’s ability should be outlined in this document in accordance with the following criteria:

  • For applicants showing extraordinary abilities in the arts, a peer-group consultation is required. These peer groups can include labor unions and must display the applicant’s expertise in their field.
  • For applicants who show extraordinary abilities in the motion picture or television industry, separate consultations must be provided from both a labor and management organization that is well-regarded in the applicant’s field.
  • The written contract between the applicant and the employer based in the United States should also be included. This can be substituted for a summary of the oral agreement when applicable.
  • Proof that the applicant was the recipient or nominee of a highly regarded award or achievement. Examples of these awards can be, but are not limited to, a Grammy, Emmy, Academy Award, or Director’s Guild Award.

If the applicant cannot provide evidence for a major award or achievement, they should have at least three of the following:

  • Proof that they are performing or will perform in a highly regarded, critically acclaimed production, or provided/will provide services for that production.
  • Acclaim in line with this performance from an established and highly respected media outlet. Such as stellar reviews for their ability in a newspaper, magazine, or journal.
  • A reputation for this performance as highlighted by a strong marketing campaign, critical review/anticipation, or endorsements.
  • Proof of success in this production such as box office numbers, ratings, viewership, title, or critical rating. These figures should be reported by an established organization or media outlet.
  • Received widespread acclaim in either fame, financial success, or government support. Testimonials from high ranking officials claiming the expertise of the applicant are necessary.
  • A high salary in relation to this production or performance as evidenced by contracts or other established means.

Comparable evidence may be substituted for the above in the event that one cannot provide three of the items mentioned. This may vary for each application.

O-2 Visa for Support of an O-1 Applicant

The specific visa category of O-2 is designated for individuals necessary to the O-1 applicant in order to perform their duty or task. The O-2 is denoted as belonging to the assistants of artists or athletes primarily. In short, if the O-2 did not accompany the O-1, the O-1 would be rendered incapable of doing their work. The O-2 applicant should display skills or qualifications that cannot be found in the United States.

O-2 Visa Application Process

The O-2 applicant must file a petition with the USCIS by filing the same document as the O-1, Form I-129, Petition for Nonimmigrant Worker. This document will be sent to the office mentioned in the documentation. The O-2 applicant must be petitioned for together with the O-1 athlete or artist they will be assisting. The O-2 application cannot be filed longer than one year before the estimated employment. It is recommended that the I-129 be filed more than 45 days before the start of employment, in order to prevent delays.

In combination with the I-129 Form, O-2 visa applicants should submit documentation evidence as described below.

O2 Consultation

  • For O-2 applicants who will assist an extraordinary individual in the arts or athletics, the consultation should be from the appropriate labor organization.
  • For O-2 applicants who will assist an extraordinary individual in the motion picture or television industry, the consultation must be form both a labor and management organization in the given field of expertise.

In the event that an O-2 visa applicant cannot provide the above consultation from a peer-group or labor organization, their application will be based on their individual track record.

Agents

The information regarding agents for an O-1 applicant is also applicable for an O-2 visa applicant. Please refer to the above section.

O-2 Evidence of Achievement

Evidence must be provided that indicates the qualifications of the O-2 applicant. This involves a list of their knowledge and skills necessary to aid and assist the O-1 during their employment in the United States. In order to obtain an O-2 visa, one must also come backed with years of applicable experience.

For O-2 applicants who will aid or assist an O-1 applying for work in the motion picture or television industry, one must provide a track record of the services listed. As such, one who helped the O-1 in their given country will continue to help the O-1 in the same capacity in America. It must be proven that the O-1 cannot complete their production without the direct involvement of this O-2 applicant.

After the Petition is Approved

After one is approved by the USCIS for either an O-1 or an O-2 petition, one must visit the local United States Embassy to obtain the visa. The Department of State will issue fees in relation to the processing of the documentation and insurance for the applicant. For more comprehensive coverage of the fees and what to expect, refer to the “Temporary Workers Visas Department of State” page that is linked to on the right.

Initial Period of Stay and Extensions

The initial allotment for length of stay for O-1 and O-2 visa recipients is three years. In accordance to finishing their job, task, duty, or performance, this stay can be extended. These extensions occur in increments of one year.

The O nonimmigrant individual is also allowed to enter the United States up to 10 days before and 10 days after the completion of their project. However, it is not permitted for them to work during these 10 days. Employment is only legal during the validity period of the visa.

Extensions

In the event that the applicant needs more time to complete their work, they can file for an extension. These extensions must be filed with the USCIS and must include the following documentation:

  • A new Form I-129, Petition for Nonimmigrant Worker
  • Copies of the applicant’s Form I-94, Arrival/Departure Record
  • A written statement from the applicant explaining the reasons for the requested extension.

This written statement should include the initial reason the applicant was given an O visa. It should also include proof that the individual is working on this specific task and why they need additional time to finish it.

For the family of the O visa recipient, another document is required. Form I-539, Application to Extend/Change Nonimmigrant Status, must be submitted, as well as any and all supporting documentation.

More information on extensions is provided in the link on the right titled, “Form I-539 Application to Extend/Change Nonimmigrant Status.”

O-3 Visa for the Family of O-1 and O-2

The O-3 Visa applies to the family of an O-1 or an O-2 visa holder. This includes only their spouse and children under the age of 21. The length of stay for an O-3 will be the same as their family member holding the O-1 or O-2 visa. O-3 visa holders are not allowed to work during the duration of their stay in America. They are allowed to study full-time, however.

O-1 Visa Holder Changing Employers

It is possible for an O-1 nonimmigrant to change their employer. The new employer must file another Form I-129 with the USCIS. If the petition was filed by an agent, then the agent must send an updated or amended petition to the USCIS. This includes evidence of the new employer, reasons for changing employers, and how long of an extension is required, if necessary.

Final Considerations

This specific category of nonimmigrant visas applies only to the best and brightest in a given field. They must display an ability and willingness to continue their expertise whist living in the United States. This is contrasted to a typical work visa, as only experts or celebrities are entitled to an O level visa.