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O-1: Extraordinary Ability Visa

Specifics of immigration law.
Law Offices of Ernest Goodman > O-1: Extraordinary Ability Visa

O-1 Visa: Individuals with Extraordinary Ability or Achievement


The O-1 visa is a nonimmigrant visa category in the United States designed for individuals with extraordinary ability or achievement in their field. The purpose of the O-1 visa is to allow these exceptional individuals to work temporarily in the U.S., sharing their talents and expertise.

There are two subcategories of the O-1 visa:

  1. O-1A visa: This visa is for individuals with extraordinary ability in the sciences, education, business, or athletics. To qualify for the O-1A visa, applicants must demonstrate their extraordinary ability by providing evidence of sustained national or international acclaim and recognition in their field.
  2. O-1B visa: This visa is for individuals with extraordinary ability in the arts, motion pictures, or television industry. To qualify for the O-1B visa, applicants must show a high level of achievement or distinction in their field, as evidenced by a degree of skill and recognition significantly above that ordinarily encountered.

To be eligible for an O-1 visa, applicants must meet at least three of the criteria specified by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) for their respective subcategory (O-1A or O-1B). Additionally, applicants must have a U.S. employer or agent to petition on their behalf, and they must provide a written advisory opinion from a relevant peer group or labor organization.

The O-1 visa is initially granted for up to three years and can be extended in one-year increments as long as the individual continues to work in their area of extraordinary ability or achievement. There is no limit to the number of extensions an O-1 visa holder can obtain, making it a flexible option for those who qualify.

The O-1 visa is a non-immigrant visa for individuals of “extraordinary ability”. “Extraordinary” is obviously a strong word, and by its definition, should only apply to a few people in a particular field. However, the actual application of what it means to be “extraordinary” in the context of an O-1 visa includes a broader category of people and not as restrictive as one may think.

In order to qualify for the 0-1, an individual must demonstrate the following:

  1. extraordinary ability by sustained national or international acclaim.” The applicant must be vising the US temporarily to continue work in the area of extraordinary ability.
  2. The “extraordinary ability in the fields of science, education, business or athletics means 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.”
  3. Extraordinary ability in the field of arts means distinction, which is judged by a “high-level of achievement in the field of the arts evidenced by a degree of skill and recognition substantially above that ordinarily encountered to the extent that a person described as prominent is renowned, leading, or well-known in the field of arts.”
  4. To get an O-1 visa in the motion picture or television industry, the beneficiary needs to demonstrate extraordinary achievement. The person must be “recognized as outstanding, notable or leading in the motion picture and/or television field.”

O-1 visas were issued by USCIS in the year of 2017.

Excellent opportunity for people who work in the filed of science, education, business or athletics.

To demonstrate sustained national or international acclaim for those in the fields of science, education, business, or athletics, the USCIS requires a major internationally recognized award or at least three of the listed criteria. In contrast, for those in the arts field, prominence can be established by showcasing significant national or international awards or nominations in the particular field, or by meeting at least three of the USCIS’s listed criteria. In the motion picture or television industry, the criteria remain the same as in the arts field, but the evidentiary standard is more stringent, and the threshold bar is higher.

Now, these definitions and guidelines will most likely still cause a fair degree of confusion as to whether one can indeed qualify as an individual of extraordinary ability. After all, very few people have actually won a major internationally recognized award, such as an Olympics medal or a Pulitzer Prize, or significant national or international award or prize such as an Oscar, Emmy or Grammy award. This is where the immigration attorney’s use of know-how strategies and tactics in their ability to gather the evidentiary materials of the applicant’s credentials and experience, and position the applicant in the best possible light to fit at least three of the evidentiary criteria becomes absolutely crucial.

As an example, if you’re an architectural designer who has previously worked at a renowned firm responsible for designing significant landmarks and projects worldwide, simply having that experience can elevate you above others in the field and establish prominence. With numerous architectural firms globally, working for a reputable firm alone carries substantial weight in meeting the evidentiary criteria required to demonstrate extraordinary ability. Similarly, being a photographer who has worked for globally recognized brands like Calvin Klein or Tommy Hilfiger can also strengthen an O-1 visa application by leveraging the power of the brand and being selected from a vast pool of talented artists. Designing web or advertisement banners for CCTV, one of China’s most extensive television networks with millions of viewers worldwide, can also be considered extraordinary for a graphic designer. Essentially, there are various approaches to demonstrate “extraordinary ability” as defined by the USCIS regulations.

The Supreme Court has noted that bail and the refusal to set bail also implicate the right to due process found in the Fourteenth and Fifth Amendments to the Constitution.

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