“Oh What Talent You Have!” U.S. O-visas Options for Individuals with Extraordinary Abilities or Achievement

By Janelle M. Lewis, Principal Attorney, The Law Office of Janelle M. Lewis

Do you possess extraordinary ability in the sciences, arts, education, business, or athletics? Do you have a demonstrated record of achievement in the motion picture or television industry and have been recognized nationally or internationally for those achievements? If you fall into one of these two categories and have an opportunity to  take your talents and achievements to the U.S., the O-visa classification category might be for you.

What is the O-visa ?

The O-visa is a nonimmigrant visa for those classified as having extraordinary ability or achievement. There are two subcategories within the O-visa classification category – O-1A and O-1B. The O-1A visa category is for individuals who possess extraordinary ability in the sciences, education, business, or athletics. The O-1B visa category is for individuals with extraordinary ability in the arts, or extraordinary achievement in the motion picture or television industry.

What are the requirements?

O-visa applicants must have a U.S. employer who is petitioning the visa on their behalf  – meaning that their must be a job offer, job acceptance and contract of employment (for a temporary period of time) between the individual seeking the visa (beneficiary) and the individual or entity sponsoring the individual (petitioner).

In order for the beneficiary to qualify for the O-visa, they must demonstrate that they have national or international acclaim, where:

  • in the fields of science, education, business, or athletics the beneficiary has a level of expertise where they are one of a small percentage of people who have risen to top of the field;
  • in the fields of the arts, the beneficiary must have achieved distinction in the field,  demonstrating a high-level of skill, and being recognized as being renowned, leading or well-known in the field of the arts; and
  • in the motion picture or film industry, beneficiary must be recognized as outstanding, notable or leading in the motion picture and/or television field, demonstrating a degree of skill that few possess.

According to USCIS, evidence that can be used to demonstrate the beneficiary’s “extraordinary ability or achievement,” include (but are not limited) :

  • Published material in professional or major trade publications, newspapers or other major media about the beneficiary and the beneficiary’s work in the field for which classification is sought
  • Original scientific, scholarly, or business-related contributions of major significance in the field
  • Participation on a panel, or individually, as a judge of the work of others in the same or in a field of specialization allied to that field for which classification is sought
  • Employment in a critical or essential capacity for organizations and establishments that have a distinguished reputation
  • Performed and will perform services as a lead or starring participant in productions or events which have a distinguished reputation as evidenced by critical reviews, advertisements, publicity releases, publications, contracts or endorsements
  • A record of major commercial or critically acclaimed successes, as shown by such indicators as title, rating or standing in the field, box office receipts, motion picture or television ratings and other occupational achievements reported in trade journals, major newspapers or other publications
  • Received significant recognition for achievements from organizations, critics, government agencies or other recognized experts in the field in which the beneficiary is engaged, with the testimonials clearly indicating the author’s authority, expertise and knowledge of the beneficiary’s achievements

Who can join the O-1 visa beneficiary?

Spouse and children of the O-1 visa beneficiary can join the individual under the O-3 visa classification category. Additionally, individuals who play an “integral part,” in the beneficiary’s activity (for O-1A beneficiaries); or are “essential” to the completion of a beneficiary’s activity (for O-1B beneficiaries), that have critical skill that cannot be performed by a U.S worker, may join the O-1 visa beneficiary by qualifying for a O-2 visa.

Period of Stay?

O-visas are nonimmigrant visas, which means they are temporary in nature, and the individual must be intending to return to their country after the completion of the activity for which they petitioned the visa classification category. The initial period of stay is up to 3 years, with the possibility of extension in 1 year increments (upon the discretion of USCIS).

The views expressed in this article do not constitute legal advice and legal information provided in this post should not be relied upon as legal advice. Please contact an Attorney for advice on your specific matter.


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