The O-1 nonimmigrant visa is for individuals who possess extraordinary ability in the sciences, arts, education, business, or athletics, or who have a demonstrated record of extraordinary achievement in the motion picture or television industry.

Although these types of visas do not result in permanent residences (unlike the green card), they do permit individuals with specific qualifications to legally enter and work in the United States for a limited period of time.

O-1 Visa: The Basics

The O-1 visa is separated into distinct categories with slightly different criteria.

  • The O-1A visa, as defined by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), is issued to accomplished foreign nationals that have demonstrated extraordinary ability in the arts, sciences, education, business, or athletics
  • The O-1B track is reserved for qualifying individuals within the arts, motion picture, television, or greater entertainment industries

An O-1 visa is unique in that there is no lottery and potential candidates are not allowed to petition for it themselves.  Instead, they must obtain sponsorship from a U.S. based company or agent, known as the petitioner.

The Process of Obtaining an O1-Visa

We need to note that preparing a successful case for an O1-Visa request requires the full and complete cooperation of the applicant. It is essential that the individual applying for an O-1 visa find a valid and verifiable offer of work, prepare biographical documents, obtain deal memos (a letter of intent from your prospective employer within your specified industry), and collect evidence in the required areas. 

Defining Specific Skills and Documenting Proof

The individual requesting an O-1 visa must demonstrate they have achieved a level of expertise and are in a small percentage of those who have risen to the top of their field. This is critical to a successful O-1 visa application.

The evidence that meets this requirement includes:

  • prestigious national or international prizes and awards for excellence such as an Olympic medal or Nobel Prize
  • authorship of scholarly articles or publications in major media
  • reference letters or an affidavit of support from leaders in the specific category or industry of expertise
  • a written advisory opinion from a peer group
  • membership in an organization that requires outstanding achievement
  • documentation that the individual has been a reviewer or editor for a professional journal
  • previous employment in an essential capacity for an organization with a distinguished reputation
  • commanded a high salary or other outstanding compensation for services rendered

The petition must meet at least three of these criteria to receive a favorable decision.

Unfortunately, many petitions are denied by the USCIS for lack of convincing evidence that the person has achieved the required level of  prominence, renown, or  leadership in their field.

Extraordinary abilities include but are not limited to atypical jobs that involve creative decision-making.

Social Media Influencers and models fit the “extraordinary ability” umbrella through brand ambassadorships and/or high number of followers, views or likes, if it can be shown that their contribution is valuable and essential to the promotion of the brand they are representing.

With the impact  of social media on a brand’s revenue and reputation, an argument also can be made that a high number of views, likes, or shares is evidence that the influencer has a unique promotional value to the employer.

Submitting the Petition

Remember, an O-1 non-immigrant visa petition must be filed by a sponsor. A U.S. agent may act as the sponsor if they fall into one of the following categories:

  • the actual employer who has made the job offer
  • the representative of both the prospective employee and the employer
  • a person or entity who has been authorized by the employer to act for, or in place of, the employer as its agent 

If there are multiple employers, each employer must file a separate petition unless an agent is used. Agents can petition for multiple employers if authorized to do so.

If this sounds complicated, it is! This is one reason why you need an experienced immigration attorney on your side to guide you through this process.

Paperwork and Forms

After an employer or agent files the petition for an O-1 visa with the USCIS, there is still more left to do.

  • The individual must also submit several forms from the USCIS office including the DS-160, a requirement for everyone who applies for a US visa
  • All fees must be paid with the application and submission of supporting documents
  • An appointment for a visa interview with the nearest US Embassy or Consulate is required

At the conclusion of the meeting with the embassy official, the visa application will subsequently be processed and reviewed, after which time a decision will be issued.

Processing Times, Costs, and Expiration

It usually takes an estimated two to three months for the application process of an O-1 visa to be finalized.

Application costs can start at  $460.00. For faster service, there is the option of Premium Processing Services at an additional charge. There is also an additional cost of $190 for filing the DS-160 form.  All prices are subject to change by USCIS.

A United States O-1 visa is valid for up to three years and is continuously renewable at the end of each period.

Family Members of O1 Visa Holder

A spouse and unmarried children under the age of 21 may accompany the O1 visa holder by obtaining an O3 visa. However, there are restrictions.

  •  Family members may attend school, but may not accept employment in the United States
  • Although there is no quota for the number of immediate relatives that can receive the O3 visa, they are required to fill out immigration forms and go through a similar process
  •  The O-3 visa for family-members will expire at the same time as the O-1 visa holder

Legal Expertise for Meeting O-1 Visa Requirements

The process to apply for a visa can often be a complicated and overwhelming experience to handle, especially without professional help. It is challenging to organize the paperwork, file the proper applications, and meet required deadlines.

A skilled immigration attorney will assure the individual and the employer are in full compliance with the law throughout the proceedings.

WA Law Group offers comprehensive immigration law services with an emphasis on employment concerns. From visas to US citizenship, the immigration lawyers and professional staff at our law firm will guide you through the often-confusing immigration laws and regulations. With over 40 years of combined experience, we keep abreast of the changing immigration visa requirements and policies.

At WA Law Group, we pride ourselves on achieving an outstanding level of communication with our clients, and we continually keep you advised of your visa status. Our attorneys can also provide US immigration advice and assistance if you eventually wish to take the next steps and apply for permanent resident status.

To discuss how you and your potential employer / employee can meet O-1 visa requirements, or to learn more about working visas, call us today for a free consultation at 301-881-8422. We will walk you through the process and guide you every step of the way.