O-1 Visas

The O-1 visa is for persons with extraordinary ability in sciences, arts, education, business, or athletics and motion picture or TV production. It is not a general work permit that allows foreign nationals to engage in unrestricted employment. It requires sponsorship from a U.S. employer or petitioner, and is one of the few nonimmigrant visas which allows the foreign national beneficiary to have immigrant intent.

The O-1 visa is divided into two categories:

  1. O-1A: Individuals with extraordinary ability in the sciences, education, business, or athletics (not including the arts, motion pictures or television industry); and
  2. O-1B: Individuals with extraordinary ability in the arts or in motion picture or television industry.

 

O-1A Overview & Eligibility

The O-1A visa is for individuals who possess a level of expertise indicating that he/she is one of that small percentage who has risen to the very top of the field of endeavor.

To qualify, the O-1 beneficiary must demonstrate extraordinary ability by sustained national or international acclaim, and must be coming temporarily to the United States to continue work in the field of extraordinary ability.

Extraordinary ability or achievement in the fields of science, education, business, or athletics is shown by evidence of:

  1. Receipt of a major, internationally recognized award, such as the Nobel Prize; or
  2. At least three of the following forms of documentation:
    1. Documentation of the alien’s receipt of nationally or internationally recognized prizes or awards for excellence in the field of endeavor;
    2. Documentation of the alien’s membership in associations in the field for which classification is sought, which require outstanding achievements of their members, as judged by recognized national or international experts in their disciplines or fields;
    3. Published material in professional or major trade publications or major media about the alien, relating to the alien’s work in the field for which classification is sought, which shall include the title, date, and author of such published material, and any necessary translation;
    4. Evidence of the alien’s participation on a panel, or individually, as a judge of the work of others in the same or in an allied field of specialization to that for which classification is sought;
    5. Evidence of the alien’s original scientific, scholarly, or business-related contributions of major significance in the field;
    6. Evidence of the alien’s authorship of scholarly articles in the field, in professional journals, or other major media;
    7. Evidence that the alien has been employed in a critical or essential capacity for organizations and establishments that have a distinguished reputation;
    8. Evidence that the alien has either commanded a high salary or will command a high salary or other remuneration for services, evidenced by contracts or other reliable evidence.
  3. If the above criteria do not readily apply to the beneficiary’s occupation, the petitioner may submit comparable evidence in order to establish the beneficiary’s eligibility.

 

O-1B Overview & Eligibility

The O-1B visa, sometimes called as the “artist” visa or the “entertainment” visa, includes but is not limited to artists, singers, actors, musicians, composers, VFX artists, graphic designers, art directors, creative directors, producers, directors, editors, stylists, writers, sound engineers, choreographers, dancers, cinematographers and models.

To qualify, the O-1 beneficiary must demonstrate extraordinary ability by sustained national or international acclaim, and must be coming temporarily to the United States to continue work in the field of extraordinary ability.

Extraordinary ability in the field of arts is demonstrated by:

  1. Evidence that the alien has been nominated for, or has been the recipient of, significant national or international awards or prizes in the particular field such as an Academy Award, an Emmy, a Grammy, or a Director’s Guild Award; or
  2. At least three of the following forms of documentation:
    1. Evidence that the alien has 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;
    2. Evidence that the alien has achieved national or international recognition for achievements evidenced by critical reviews or other published materials by or about the individual in major newspapers, trade journals, magazines, or other publications;
    3. Evidence that the alien has performed, and will perform, in a lead, starring, or critical role for organizations and establishments that have a distinguished reputation evidenced by articles in newspapers, trade journals, publications, or testimonials;
    4. Evidence that the alien has a record of major commercial or critically acclaimed successes as evidenced by such indicators as title, rating, standing in the field, box office receipts, motion pictures or television ratings, and other occupational achievements reported in trade journals, major newspapers, or other publications;
    5. Evidence that the alien has received significant recognition for achievements from organizations, critics, government agencies, or other recognized experts in the field in which the alien is engaged. Such testimonials must be in a form which clearly indicates the author’s authority, expertise, and knowledge of the alien’s achievements; or
    6. Evidence that the alien has either commanded a high salary or will command a high salary or other substantial remuneration for services in relation to others in the field, as evidenced by contracts or other reliable evidence;
  3. If the criteria in paragraph (o)(3)(iv) of this section do not readily apply to the beneficiary’s occupation, the petitioner may submit comparable evidence in order to establish the beneficiary’s eligibility.

Extraordinary ability in the motion picture or television industry is demonstrated by:

  1. Evidence that the alien has been nominated for, or has been the recipient of, significant national or international awards or prizes in the particular field such as an Academy Award, an Emmy, a Grammy, or a Director’s Guild Award; or
  2. At least three of the following forms of documentation:
    1. Evidence that the alien has 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;
    2. Evidence that the alien has achieved national or international recognition for achievements evidenced by critical reviews or other published materials by or about the individual in major newspapers, trade journals, magazines, or other publications;
    3. Evidence that the alien has performed, and will perform, in a lead, starring, or critical role for organizations and establishments that have a distinguished reputation evidenced by articles in newspapers, trade journals, publications, or testimonials;
    4. Evidence that the alien has a record of major commercial or critically acclaimed successes as evidenced by such indicators as title, rating, 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;
    5. Evidence that the alien has received significant recognition for achievements from organizations, critics, government agencies, or other recognized experts in the field in which the alien is engaged. Such testimonials must be in a form which clearly indicates the author’s authority, expertise, and knowledge of the alien’s achievements; or
    6. Evidence that the alien has either commanded a high salary or will command a high salary or other substantial remuneration for services in relation to other in the field, as evidenced by contracts or other reliable evidence.

 

NOTE:
    • The O-1 visa is granted based on extraordinary ability and achievement in the field in which the person is coming to perform. If, for example, a model wants to act in film or television, s/he also has to show and document success and other achievements as an actor. Showing extraordinary achievement in modeling will not be enough because modeling and acting are not the same field. Having an O-1 as a model will not allow the O-1 model to take jobs as an actor.

 
 

Validity

An O-1 visa may be issued for up to a 3-year period. However, USCIS has the discretion to limit the length of the visa to the duration of the project(s). For example, if the project will last for 6 months, USCIS may limit the O-1 visa to a six-month period. The O-1 visa is renewable indefinitely in one or three-year increments as long as the O-1 applicant continues to work in the field of endeavor.

 

Sponsorship

An O-1 visa requires sponsorship from an employer.  This can be a regular employer, but for O-1B and O-1A athletes, it can also be an agent, manager, production company, corporate sponsor, label, etc.  If the petitioner , is an agent, manager or corporate sponsor, the O-1 petition must include an itinerary or proof of projects as shown by deal memos or contracts.

Prior to submitting an O-1 petition to USCIS, the relevant management organization and union or peer advisory group must provide an “advisory opinion” or “no objection” letter. For motion pictures and television cases, the relevant management organization is the Alliance of Motion Pictures and Television Producers (AMPTP) or American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA). Unions include the Screen Actors Guild, the Directors Guild, IATSE, Visual Effects Society, the Writers Guild of America, the Producers Guild of America, the American Federation of Musicians and the Editors Guild of America. If there is no relevant organization for that industry, a peer group organization may be used. Most of these organizations and unions charge approximately $250-$500 to issue the advisory opinion.

For O-1A cases, a peer advisory is sufficient. for O-1 athletes, the relevant professional sports body is usually the appropriate choice.

 

O-1 Extension of Status

The timely filing of an O-1 extension petition automatically authorizes the O-1 visa holder to continue working for the same employer for up to 240 days (but not more) starting from the current O-1 expiration date, or until the petition for extension is adjudicated, whichever comes first — this is also known as the “240-day” rule.

 

Accompanying Family Members

Immediate family members of O-1 visa holders, such as spouses and minor children under 21 years of age are eligible for O-3 visas.  The O-3 derivative visa may attend school in the United States. However, family members holding O-3 visas are not eligible for employment authorization.