What is an O-1 Visa?

Many US employers recruit persons from across the world and find qualified employees with expert knowledge in fields ranging from scientific research to specific artistic techniques. This is probably due to the fact that they often have difficulty finding US workers with specialized skills in very specific areas of expertise.

The O-1 visa category allows US employers to fill these jobs with foreign workers from abroad as long as those workers can prove that they have extraordinary ability in their field. In such cases, the employer should be able to explain why the job requires someone with extraordinary ability in that field.

The O-1 non immigrant visa is for foreigners who have extraordinary ability in the sciences, arts, education, business, or athletics, or who have demonstrated a record of extraordinary achievement in the motion picture or television industry and have been recognized nationally or internationally for those extraordinary achievements.

A foreign national will come under this category to work temporarily in the US on a project or event in his/her area of extraordinary ability. The foreign national cannot file a petition for an O-1 visa on his/her own behalf. Here the US employer is the “Petitioner” and the foreign national is the “Beneficiary”.

On approval, the O-1 employee will be admitted to the US for the length of the project or event as mentioned in the petition (for a maximum of three years). Once in the US, an O-1 visa holder can apply to extend his/her status by one year increments. But it is the USCIS that will determine the time necessary to accomplish the project or event.

The O-1 non immigrant classification is divided into two sub groups:

  • O-1A: This is for individuals with extraordinary ability in the sciences, education, business, or athletics (not including the arts, motion pictures or television industry)
  • O-1B: This is for individuals with extraordinary ability in the arts, or extraordinary achievement in motion picture or television industry.

Features of the O-1 Visa Category

  • There are no numerical limits (caps) to the O-1 visas classification
  • It is valid up to three years and can then be renewed in one year increments.
  • Accompanying spouses or unmarried children under the age of 21 can get a O-3 visa. Though O-3 visa holders cannot work in the US, they can study in US primary and secondary schools.
  • While in O-1 status, the foreign worker can pursue a green card (permanent residency) in the US.

The qualifying criteria for an O-1 visa are similar to the criteria to qualify for an immigrant visa as an Alien with Extraordinary Ability. So people who initially come to the US in O-1 status may apply for an immigrant visa in this category if they wish to become lawful permanent residents of the US. This visa classification does not require labor certification, so it often results in a quicker path to permanent residency when compared to applying for an employment-based green card in the second preference.

But qualifying for an O-1 visa does not necessarily mean that you will also qualify for an immigrant visa as an Alien of Extraordinary Ability. While the qualifying criteria are similar, USCIS will look at immigrant petitions for Aliens with Extraordinary Ability with a higher level of scrutiny than used for O-1 visa petitions. Someone with O-1 status may also choose to apply for an immigrant visa in the employment-based second preference but this requires labor certification.

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