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Visas for Extraordinary Individuals

What is an O-1 visa?

If you are an individual with extraordinary ability in the sciences, arts, education, business, athletics, motion picture, or television industry and you have been recognized nationally or internationally for those achievements, you may qualify for an O-1 visa.  O-1 visa can be a great option for many, especially those in the fields of creative activity or endeavor usually not covered by other non-immigrant work visas, such as chefs, hair stylists, makeup artists, and coaches.

How can I qualify for an O-1 visa?

If you have extraordinary ability in the sciences, education, business, or athletics, you can qualify for an O-1 visa if you received a major award such as a Nobel Prize, or more commonly, by providing documentation in at least three (3) of the following categories:  

  • Receipt of nationally or internationally recognized prizes or awards
  • Membership in associations in the field which require outstanding achievements
  • Published material about you or your work in professional or major media
  • Original scientific, scholarly, or business-related contributions of major significance
  • Authorship of scholarly articles in professional journals or other major media in your field
  • A high salary or other remuneration compared to others in your field
  • Participation on a panel, or individually, as a judge of the work of others
  • Employment in a critical or essential capacity for organizations that have a distinguished reputation

If you have extraordinary ability or achievement in the arts, motion picture, or television industry, you can qualify for an O-1 visa if you received, or have been nominated for, significant awards or prizes such as an Academy Award, Emmy, Grammy or Director’s Guild Award, or more commonly, by providing documentation in at least three (3) of the following categories:

  • Lead or starring participant in productions or events of distinguished reputation
  • Achieved national or international recognition for achievements, as shown by critical reviews and published materials in major media
  • Lead, starring, or critical role for organizations and establishments of distinguished reputation
  • Major commercial or critically acclaimed successes as evidenced by title, ratings, box office receipts, newspaper articles, etc.
  • Received significant recognition for achievements from organizations, critics, government agencies or other recognized experts
  • A high salary or other substantial remuneration for services compared to others in your field

Do I need an employer to apply for an O-1 visa?

An O-1 visa needs a petitioner, and you cannot self-sponsor for your own O-1 visa.  However, the regulations recognize that direct employment may not be always feasible for traditionally self-employed workers or those who engage in short-term arrangements with multiple employers, especially in the field of arts. For O-1 visa, you can have a U.S. agent as your petitioner when there is no appropriate employer.  A U.S. agent may act as the actual employer, as your representative, or can even file on behalf of a foreign employer as long as he or she is authorized to do so. A U.S. agent can also file an O-1 petition for multiple employers as long as you submit copies of contracts and a complete itinerary of the events. Unless specified on the O-1 visa petition by your agent, you may not work for an employer who is not your petitioner.  If you wish to work for a new employer, you may need to have your agent file an amended O-1 visa petition or apply for a new O-1 visa petition for change of employer.

Is there a wage requirement for an O-1 visa?  

The O-1 visa petition must specify the amount of wage offered for your employment or engagements in the U.S.  However, there is no prevailing wage requirement for O-1 visa and no particular wage structure is required. A petition letter explaining the wage or fee structure offered to you and/or a copy of a contract are usually sufficient.

How long can I stay in the U.S. under O-1 visa?

If you are applying for the first time, you can get up to three (3) years of stay.  Thereafter, an O-1 visa may be extended in one-year increments for an indefinite period of time if it is to continue the same employment or activity.  If you are changing your employer and therefore filing a new O-1 visa with a different petitioner, you are eligible for up to three years of stay again.  At the end of your O-1 visa petition validity period, you will have up to 10 days of additional authorized stay (“grace period”).

Can I bring my family members?

Your spouse or children under the age of 21 can apply for an O-3 visa as your dependents. Employment is not permitted under O-3 visa, but they may engage in full or part-time study in the U.S.