O-1 Extraordinary Ability Worker Visas

The O-1 visa is a temporary work visa available to those foreign nationals who have “extraordinary ability in the sciences, arts, education, business or athletics” which “have been demonstrated by sustained national or international acclaim.” USCIS interprets the statute very broadly to encompass most fields of creative endeavor. For example, chefs, carpenters and lecturers can all obtain O-1 visas. The person entering the US must be coming to work in their field of ability, but the position need not require the services of a person of extraordinary ability.

To obtain an O-1 visa to work in the sciences, education, business or athletics, applicants must demonstrate that they possess “a level of expertise indicating that the person is one of the small percentage who have risen to the top of the field of endeavor.” There are two ways to demonstrating this expertise. One method is through receiving a major internationally recognized award such as a Nobel Prize. The more common way is by providing documentation in three of the following categories:

  • Receipt of nationally or internationally recognized prizes or awards for excellence in the field of endeavor
  • Membership in associations in the field which require outstanding achievements of their members
  • Published material about the alien
  • Participation as a judge of the work of others in the same or allied fields
  • Evidence of original contributions of significance in the field
  • Authorship of scholarly articles
  • Evidence of employment in a critical or essential capacity for organizations with a distinguished reputation
  • Evidence that the alien has or will command a high salary

Comparable evidence that does not fit within these categories may also be submitted.

Before a person will be granted an O-1 visa, USCIS requires a consultation with a US-based organization. The petition must include an advisory opinion from a peer group, labor union, or person with expertise in the applicant’s field. This opinion can either state simply that the group has no objection to issuing the visa, or can detail the applicant’s achievements. If the achievements are detailed, the letter should also address the applicant’s ability, the nature of the position offered.

The form for petitioning for the O-1 visa is the I-129. This must be submitted along with the consultation opinion, evidence documenting the alien’s extraordinary ability, and details of the proposed work in the US. The petition is to be approved for the duration of the event in which the alien will participate, for a maximum of three years.

An O-1 visa may be extended in one-year increments for an indefinite period of time. Form I-129 is also used to file for an extension. The application for an extension does not need to include a consultation, and requires only a statement of why the extension is sought.

Finally, O-1 visas are what are known as “dual intent visas”, meaning that even though the applicant has filed a labor certification or petition for classification as a preference worker leading to permanent residence, the O visa cannot be denied.