O Visas for Aliens of Extraordinary Ability
The O visa category is for highly talented or acclaimed foreign nationals who may not qualify in other work-related nonimmigrant categories such as H, L, or J, or for those who wish to avoid those classifications for various reasons. It is especially useful to artists, athletes, entertainers, professional chefs, and business people without professional degrees. As an alternative to H-1B, it is particularly relevant classification, because there is no mandated wage nor any annual visa quota.
O-1 status is granted to the individual who is of extraordinary ability or achievement. O-2 status (see below) is reserved for foreign nationals seeking to accompany O-1 visa holders in the areas of arts, motion picture and television productions, and athletics.
The period of authorized stay for the O category is for such time as is necessary to be present for the qualifying events/activities, but in any event no more than three (3) years. Extensions to continue/complete the SAME events/activities may be obtained for one year at a time.
Immigration Law Associates, PC has many years of experience in preparing O visa applications on behalf of highly talented and acclaimed foreign nationals seeking to offer their talents and skills for employment in the U.S.
Criteria for the O-1 Visa
Persons seeking O-1 status must possess abilities, skills, or achievements of an "extraordinary" quality. Extraordinary ability in science, education, business, or athletics is "a level of expertise indicating that the person is one of the small percentage who has risen to the very top of the field of endeavor."
The petitioner must prove "extraordinary ability" by providing evidence either of the beneficiary's receipt of a "major, internationally recognized award, such as the Nobel Prize," or documentation of at least three of the following:
- Receipt of nationally or internationally recognized prizes/awards for excellence in the field;
- Membership in associations in the field that require outstanding achievement of their members, as judged by recognized national experts;
- Published material in professional or major trade publications or major media about the alien;
- Participation on a panel or as a judge of the work of others in the same or an allied field of specialization;
- Original scientific, scholarly, or business-related contributions of major significance;
- Authorship of scholarly articles in professional journals or other major media;
- Current or previous employment in critical or essential capacity for organizations and establishments that have a distinguished reputation; or
- Past or proffered high salary or other remuneration for services, evidenced by contracts or other reliable evidence.
In the arts, extraordinary ability means "distinction," "a high level of achievement in the field of arts as evidenced by a degree of skill and recognition substantially above that ordinarily encountered…" This category requires only that the artist is "prominent in his/her field of endeavor." Petitioners must show that the O-1 beneficiary artist meets the standard of distinction either by showing that the beneficiary has been nominated for or has received a significant national or international award or prize, such as: an Academy Award, an Emmy, a Grammy, or a Director’s Guild Award or that the beneficiary meets three of the following:
- Has performed/will perform services as a lead/starring participant in productions/events with distinguished reputations;
- Has received critical recognition in newspapers or trade journals;
- Has performed as a lead for an organization that has a distinguished reputation;
- Has a record of major commercial or critically acclaimed success;
- Has achieved significant recognition from organizations, critics, government agencies, recognized experts;
- Has commanded or will command a high salary/other remuneration in relation to others in the field.
In the motion picture or TV industry, extraordinary achievement is defined as "a very high level of accomplishment in the motion picture or TV industry evidenced by a degree of skill and recognition substantially encountered…" "The person must be outstanding or notable."
Who Can Petition?
Permissible O-1/O-2 petitioners include only U.S. employers and agents. O-1 foreign nationals cannot petition on their own behalf.
An O visa "event" includes a wide array of activities: These activities include, but are not limited to:
- Scientific Projects;
- Lecture Series;
- Performance Tours;
- Business Projects;
- Academic Years or Engagements
A group of related activities can also be considered an event and can include a foreign national's entire contract. Please contact us to determine if you or your client(s)'s activities might qualify as an "event" for O visa purposes.
The O-2 Accompanying Person
The O-2 accompanying person category is available for persons seeking to accompany an O-1artist, entertainer or athlete, but not for individuals working with O-1 scientists, educators, or business people. An O-2 visa holders is tied to the O-1 visa holder he or she is accompanying and cannot work separately. The visa for an O-2 accompanying person "must be petitioned for in conjunction with the services of the O-1 alien."
The basic criteria for obtaining O-2 status are:
- The O-2 beneficiary is an integral part of the actual performance;
- The beneficiary has critical skills and experience that are not of a general nature that cannot be performed by other individuals (For motion picture or TV productions, the beneficiary has skills that are not general, which are critical and which are based upon a pre-existing long-standing working relationship. In the case of a specific production, a long-standing relationship is unnecessary where there is significant post or pre production work that will take place inside and outside of the U.S. and the individual’s presence is needed for successful completion).
Faster Adjudications Through Premium Processing
The USCIS offers a premium processing service that allows employers or employees to pay a $1225 premium-processing fee (in addition to regular filing fees) for expedited processing of their O-1/O-2 petitions. In return for the $1225 fee, the USCIS will guarantee processing of petitions within 15 calendar days after receipt of the petition. Applications filed concurrently by dependents of a beneficiary choosing to use the Premium Processing Service will also be processed within 15 days without an additional $1225 processing fee. If the USCIS does not issue an approval notice, notice of intent to deny, request for evidence, or notice of investigation for fraud or misrepresentation within 15 days of physical receipt of a petition, the Service will refund the $1225 fee but will still expeditiously process the case.