The O-1 visa is a non-immigrant U.S. visa for people who demonstrate extraordinary ability in their field, such as arts, sport, business, education or research.
The O-1 visa is usually issued for up to three years. In some cases, such status is granted to cover a specific event or activity and may be issued for a shorter period. Extensions are possible in one-year increments, but there is no limit on how many times one can request it. To qualify for an extension, the O-1 visa holders must be able to demonstrate that they are continuing with the same position or activity for which the original visa was granted.
O-1 visas are highly discretionary and are reserved for the cream of the crop individuals who have risen to the top of their profession for a sustained period of time – USCIS does not just give them away.
Simply submitting the required documents for an O-1 visa is not enough. Applicants must establish a strong case that goes above and beyond meeting the minimum criteria.
O-1 Visa Strategies
When applying for an O-1 visa, three types of evidence should be presented to build a strong case: primary, secondary and tertiary.
1. The primary evidence is most important as it establishes the facts and is not based on opinion. For example, an award or a scientific publication is a hard fact. The primary evidence are the building bricks of the O-1 petition.
2. Experts and expert opinions are often used as secondary evidence to show how the person has done something impressive for the industry. A well-written letter speaking to how the individual’s achievements meet the criteria can serve as mortar for the bricks, while a poorly written letter may accomplish the opposite.
3. The tertiary evidence contextualizes hard evidence, such as awards, by explaining what the award is, who the expert is and why their opinion matters, acting as a seal for the mortar and bricks.
O-1 Visa Qualifications
To be considered by USCIS as possessing an extraordinary ability for the O-1 visa, applicants need to meet at least three of the following criteria while also using the previously explained strategy for presenting evidence.
National or international awards or prizes of excellence in one’s respective field.
The individual may have won a national or international award of excellence or have been a critical part of a company that received an award or has coached someone that won an award.
Membership in associations that requires outstanding achievement as judged by nationally or internationally recognized experts in one’s respective discipline.
Claiming membership of an association as an outstanding achievement as judged by members is not simply being a member of any standard industry organization. The applicant should be at the leadership core or part of the organization’s elite group of decision makers. When considering the membership of an outstanding organization, USCIS looks at the criteria for membership such as being part of a national team as an athlete.
Featured work in professional or high-profile trade publications or mainstream media.
For example, publications made by the individual in notable scientific or teaching journals can be used. The pivotal word here is notable. Another qualifier could be a publication that references the person or their work in a major trade magazine or influential media. Sources such as the New York Times can qualify as major media, but local newspapers do not.
Any significant contributions within the industry that are supported by established experts.
Inventions, patents or created methodologies that are significant to someone else can be used to meet O-1 visa requirements.
High salary or remuneration in one’s respective industry.
A person with a high salary within the industry and that has created the company may also meet the criteria.
Other relevant evidence of exceptional expertise that does not fit any of the above criteria may also be used to qualify.