How to Get an O-1 Visa
The O-1 visa is a nonimmigrant visa reserved for people who have been recognized for their extraordinary ability or achievement in science, the arts, business, education, or athletics. If you are interested in working in the United States using this type of nonimmigrant visa, you may want to know more about the O-1 nonimmigrant visa classification, O-1 visa requirements, or the O-1 visa application process before contacting an attorney. All these topics are covered in this guide.
What is an O-1 Visa?
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) offers two different classifications of O-1 visas.
- O-1A visas are for individuals who can prove they possess one of the following:
- An extraordinary ability in the sciences
- An extraordinary ability in education
- An extraordinary ability in business
- An extraordinary ability in athletics
- O-1B visas are for individuals who can prove they possess one of the following:
- Extraordinary ability in the arts
- Extraordinary achievement in the motion picture or television industry
Your attorney can help you figure out if you qualify for an O-1 nonimmigrant visa or if another type of work visa may be a better fit for you.
O-1 Visa Requirements
Not everyone who has an extraordinary ability or achievement qualifies for an O-1 nonimmigrant visa. For example, to qualify for an O-1 visa, you must have sustained national or international acclaim for your talent and intend to enter the United States to work in the same field in which you have excelled.
In other words, if you have gained international fame through your accomplishments in business, USCIS won’t grant you an O-1A visa to play basketball in the United States. Additionally, the O-1 petition must include at least three different types of accepted documentation proving that you meet the standards for O-1 classification. The process can be complex, so it’s important to seek legal counsel before petitioning for an O-1 visa.
O-1 Visa Application Process
As the person who will be the holder of the O-1 visa, you are the beneficiary. Unfortunately, you can’t petition USCIS for an O-1 visa yourself. The petitioner of your O-1 nonimmigrant visa should be a U.S. employer, a U.S. agent, or a foreign employer through a U.S. agent.
Specifically, eligible petitioners who may file a petition on your behalf are the following:
- Your actual U.S. employer
- A U.S. representative of both you and your employer or employers
- A U.S. entity or person authorized by your employer or employers to act on their behalf as an agent
For example, if you are an exceptionally talented athlete and you have signed an employment contract with a sports team, a representative for the team can petition for your O-1 visa. The petitioner must file Form I-129, Petition for Nonimmigrant Worker on your behalf.
It’s important that the I-129 is filed with USCIS at least 45 days prior to the date your work in the United States is expected to begin. The petitioner for your O-1 visa will also need to submit a substantial amount of documentation and supplemental evidence, so it’s best to get counsel from an experienced attorney.
FAQs About O-1 Visas
O-1 status may be granted for a maximum of three years provided that that much time is needed for your job-related activities. USCIS may need your employer or agent to provide an itinerary of your planned activities to determine the length of your visa, especially if you will be working multiple events, venues or gigs.
Your sponsor’s petition must include any written contracts and a summary of the terms under which you will be employed during your stay in the United States. For example, the petitioner for an actor performing in a film would submit a detailed contract or deal memo signed by both the actor and the production company. USCIS will need a copy of any contract signed and a summary of any verbal agreements.
If you planned to participate in various engagements at multiple venues, providing evidence of the engagements becomes more complex. You may have a contract in place with each venue. If you don’t have a contract in place, you may need to obtain a contract or letter of intent from every venue listed on your itinerary. If you can’t get a contract or letter of intent from every venue, the petitioner of your O-1 visa will need to provide USCIS with letters or contracts from enough venues to intermittently cover the timespan of the itinerary.
The O visa may be the perfect visa for artists or athletes who do not usually have full-time permanent positions but rather undertake a series of short-term temporary assignments. The regulations provide that such self-employed individuals may use the services of an agent. O-1 visa holders do not require a full-time permanent position. An agent can streamline the petitioning process.
For example, your agent can get a letter of intent from each venue stating, “XYZ venue authorizes the petitioner to act in the place of XYZ venue as an agent for the limited purpose of filing the O petition.” USCIS views the venues as multiple different employers. So, whether the petitioner is a sole employer or an agent contractually representing multiple venues, the best way to maximize the validity period of your O-1 visa is to plan performances over the duration of your stay in the United States.
USCIS may grant an initial stay of up to three years, but your length of stay will depend on your itinerary and temporary employment plans. If your itinerary contains events that only span the course of six months, USCIS will not allow you to stay the full three years allowed by the initial stay. The three-year duration period is the maximum length USCIS will initially approve, but USCIS will carefully examine your itinerary to determine the length of your approved stay.
Under certain circumstances, USCIS may also grant you an extension if you need more time to complete the job. For example, if you’re an actor working on a production and it’s taking longer than expected, USCIS may grant you a one-year extension of stay. Your attorney can explain extensions in better detail if the need arises.
USCIS offers expedited O-1 visa processing for an added fee. Many of our clients who are seeking an O-1 visa consider the added fee for USCIS’s Premium Processing nominal, so if you need quicker processing, make sure to tell your attorney.
O-1 professional athletes have special rules. If there is a material change in the terms and conditions of your employment, such as being traded from one team to another, an attorney will likely advise you that your existing employment authorization can continue with the new team for 30 days, but during that time, the new employer will need to file a new I-129 petition. If your new employer doesn’t file the new Form I-129, you will lose your employment authorization. It’s important that the petitioner has legal counsel when filing the Form I-129, because if USCIS denies the new form, you will lose your employment authorization as well.
Choose a Global Leader for O-1 Visa Petitions
If you believe you may qualify for an O visa, then you need to work with attorneys who are experienced in representing internationally recognized clients. D’Alessio Law attorneys have over 25 years of immigration and entertainment law experience with an outstanding O visa approval rate. For more information about O-1 visas, look over the O-1 Visa FAQs or read about D’Alessio Law Group’s experience with O-1 visas. When you’re ready to move forward, request a free consultation.