What is an O-1 Extraordinary Ability visa?

The United States welcomes stars within each field of endeavor to work under the O-1 extraordinary ability visa category. In order to establish eligibility, you must demonstrate through extensive documentation that you meet the criteria.

Do I qualify for O-1 Extraordinary Ability status?

It depends on the field in which you claim to be extraordinary. The criteria differ between those in the sciences, education, business or athletics; those in the arts and those in motion picture and television productions.


What are the requirements of O-1A – Extraordinary ability in the sciences, education, business or athletics?

In order to be considered eligible under this visa category, you must demonstrate “a level of expertise indicating that they are one of a small percentage that has risen to the very top of the particular field of endeavor”.

Evidencing such national or international acclaim may be done by submitting documentary evidence as to either:

  • Nomination for or receipt of a major internationally recognized award. Examples include but are not limited to Nobel Prize, Olympic medal, Pulitzer; or
  • Three or more of the following:

a. Receipt of nationally or internationally recognized awards;
b. Membership in an organization that requires outstanding achievement;
c. Published materials about the applicant in professional or major trade publications;
d. Judgment of the work of others;
e. Original scientific or scholarly work of major significance in the field;
f. Evidence of authorship of scholarly work;
g. Evidence of employment in a critical or essential capacity at an organization with a distinguished reputation; or
h. Has commanded or will command a high salary in relation to others in the field.


What are the requirements of O-1A – Extraordinary ability in the arts?

In establishing eligibility under this visa category, applicants must demonstrate “a high level of achievement in the field of arts evidenced by a degree of skill and recognition substantially above that ordinarily encountered”.

Evidencing such “distinction” may be done by submitting documentary evidence as to either:

  • Nomination for or receipt of a significant international or national award or prize. Examples include Academy awards, Grammys, Director’s Guild Award, Screen Actors Guild Award; or
  • Three or more of the following:

a. Playing the lead in a production having a distinguished reputation;
b. Critical reviews in major newspapers or trade journals;
c. Playing a lead role for an organization that has a distinguished reputation;
d. Record of major commercial or critically acclaimed successes;
e. Significant recognition from organizations, critics, government agencies or other recognized experts in the field; or
f. Has commanded or will command a high salary.

What are the requirements of O-1B – Extraordinary achievement in motion picture and television productions

Eligibility under O-1B is premised largely on the same criteria as O-1A “extraordinary ability in the arts” except that a higher standard must be met.

Evidencing such “distinction” may be done by submitting documentary evidence as to either:

  • Nomination for or receipt of a significant international or national award or prize. Examples include Academy awards, Grammys, Director’s Guild Award, Screen Actors Guild Award; Or
  • Three or more of the following:

a. Performed, or will perform, services as a lead or starring participant in productions or events which have a distinguished reputation as evidenced by critical reviews, advertisements, publicity releases, publications, contracts or endorsements;
b. Achieved national or internal recognition for achievements;
c. Performed or will perform in a lead, starring, or critical role for organizations and establishments that have a distinguished reputation;
d. A record of major commercial or critically acclaimed successes;
e. Received significant recognition for achievements from organizations, critics, government agencies or other recognized experts in the field; and
f. A high salary or other substantial remuneration for services in relation to others in the field.


What are some examples of evidence that may be submitted to support an O-1 petition?
  • An advisory opinion from a relevant union or management organization
  • An advisory opinion from any expert source
  • Affidavits by experts and/or employers
  • Contracts
  • Awards
  • Publications
  • Tax returns

I am an athlete and need my coach to enter the US with me – what visa does he require?

Those who seek to enter the US to accompany and assist an O-1 visa holder may apply for an O-2 visa.


What are the main criteria for O-2 visa applicants?
  • Playing an integral part in the performance/game/event;
  • Possessing critical skills and experience that are not general in nature and cannot be performed by other individuals (and are not based on a pre-existing long-standing working relationship in respect of O-1B); and
  • Maintaining a foreign residence that he/she does not intend to abandon.

For how long are O-1 and O-2 visas approved?

The period will depend on the time required to complete the intended purpose of entry. An O-1 will be granted for a maximum of 3 years at the outset. This will then be increased by increments of one year, where necessary. You may enter for a period of 10 days before validity period and remain for 10 days following expiration of the validity period.


Can I bring my spouse and children?

Your spouse and dependent children may obtain O-3 visas which permit them to reside in the US for the duration permitted but neither are authorized to work during their time in the US.


How long does it take to process my application?

The O-1 process is two stages: petition and application. The petition processing time depends on where you are filing, whether USCIS requests further evidence (“RFE”) and whether you opt for premium processing. If you premium process, your petition must be adjudicated within 15 calendar days*. Otherwise, it can take several months. The application stage is usually speedy but differs between embassies.

*If USCIS requests further evidence, it does not have to process within 15 days of the original submission date.


Can I self-petition?

No. A self-petition for intended self-employment or an application based on speculative employment will not suffice.