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O-1 Visas for "Extraordinary Ability" in the Arts, Science, Business, Education or Athletics

The O-1 category is for individuals with “extraordinary ability” and is divided into two subcategories with slightly different legal standards. The O-1A nonimmigrant visa is available to foreign nationals who have “extraordinary ability” in the sciences, education, business, or athletics, which has been demonstrated by sustained national or international acclaim. The O-1B visa is a nonimmigrant work visa for foreign nationals who have “extraordinary ability” in the arts.

O-1 status is typically granted for an initial period of up to three years. It is renewable for one-year periods, so long as the visa holder continues to work in the area of expertise. While the O-1 visa does not lead to permanent residency, some O-1 visa holders will later apply for an EB-1 immigrant visa, which does grant permanent residency.

An individual interested in an O-1 visa may not self-petition. However, an O-1 beneficiary who is self-employed, works for multiple employers, or works for a foreign employer, may file the petition through an agent — which can be either a traditional talent agency such as William Morris or Creative Artists Agency, or any qualified individual or organization who agrees to serve as agent for purposes of the O-1 petition.

O-1A Visa Key Considerations

A foreign national who qualifies for this visa designation must be “one of the small percentage of individuals who have risen to the very top of his/her field of endeavor.” Proving extraordinary ability requires the foreign national to meet the following criteria:

Evidence of receipt of a major, internationally recognized award (e.g., the Nobel Prize);


Evidence of at least three of the following:

  • Receipt of a nationally or internationally recognized prize or award for excellence in the field of endeavor;
  • Membership in an association related to the classification, which requires outstanding achievements of members, as judged by national or international experts in their discipline or field;
  • Published material in professional or trade publications, or major media, about the individual, or relating to the individual’s work;
  • Participation in a panel, or individually, as a judge of the work of others in the field;
  • Scholarly, scientific, or business-related contributions of major significance in the field;
  • Authorship of scholarly articles in the field, in professional journals or major media;
  • Current or past employment in a critical or essential capacity for organizations and establishments of a distinguished reputation; or
  • Past or future receipt of a high salary or other remuneration for services.

O-1B Visa Key Considerations

The O-1B visa is a nonimmigrant work visa for foreign nationals who have “extraordinary ability” in the arts, motion pictures, or television, among other artistic categories. Extraordinary ability in the field of arts means distinction, or a high level of achievement in the field of 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.

Proving extraordinary ability requires the foreign national to meet the following criteria:

Evidence that the foreign national has been nominated for, or has been the recipient of, significant national or international awards or prizes in the particular field, such as an Academy Award, an Emmy, a Grammy, or a Director’s Guild Award);


Evidence of at least three of the following:

  • Evidence that the alien has performed, and will perform, services as a lead participant in events with a distinguished reputation as evidenced by critical reviews, advertisements, publicity releases, publication contracts, or endorsements;
  • Evidence that the alien has achieved national or international recognition for achievements evidenced by critical reviews or other published materials by or about the individual in major newspapers, trade journals, magazines, or other publications;
  • Evidence that the alien has performed, and will perform, in a lead or critical role for organizations and establishments that have a distinguished reputation evidenced by articles in newspapers, trade journals, publications, or testimonials;
  • Evidence that the alien has a record of major commercial or critically acclaimed successes as evidenced by such indicators as title, rating, standing in the field, and other occupational achievements reported in trade journals, major newspapers, or other publications;
  • Evidence that the alien has received significant recognition for achievements from organizations, critics, government agencies, or other recognized experts in the field in which the alien is engaged. Such testimonials must be in a form which clearly indicates the author's authority, expertise, and knowledge of the alien's achievements; or
  • Evidence that the alien either has commanded a high salary or will command a high salary or other substantial remuneration for services in relation to others in the field, as evidenced by contracts or other reliable evidence.

O-2 Visas for Persons Providing “Essential Support” to an O-1 Artist

The evidence should establish the current essentiality, critical skills, and experience of the O-2 beneficiary with the O-1B beneficiary and that the O-2 beneficiary has substantial experience performing the critical skills and essential support services for the O-1B. The O-2 petitioner must file a petition with USCIS in conjunction with the petition for the O-1 artist.

To speak with an immigration attorney about O-1 visas for foreign nationals with extraordinary ability in the arts, science, business, education, or athletics contact Grossman Young & Hammond.


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