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O-1 Visa: Individuals with Extraordinary Ability or Achievement

Alert: On May 29, 2020, USCIS announced that premium processing would resume for Form I-129 and Form I-140 petitions in phases over the month of June. Read more here: USCIS Resumes Premium Processing for Certain Petitions.

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

For more information, see USCIS Policy Manual Volume 2, Part M.

The O nonimmigrant classification are commonly referred to as:

  • O-1A: Individuals with an extraordinary ability in the sciences, education, business, or athletics (not including the arts, motion pictures or television industry);
  • O-1B: Individuals with an extraordinary ability in the arts or extraordinary achievement in motion picture or television industry;
  • O-2: Individuals who will accompany an O-1 artist or athlete to assist in a specific event or performance; and
  • O-3: Individuals who are the spouse or children of O-1 and O-2 visa holders.

General Eligibility

To qualify for an O-1 visa, you must demonstrate extraordinary ability by sustained national or international acclaim, or a record of extraordinary achievement in the motion picture and television industry, and must be coming temporarily to the United States to continue work in the area of extraordinary ability.

Extraordinary ability in the fields of science, education, business or athletics means a level of expertise indicating that you are one of the small percentage who have arisen to the very top of the field.

Extraordinary ability in the field of arts means distinction. Distinction means a high level of achievement in the field of the arts. This is evidenced by a degree of skill and recognition substantially above that ordinarily encountered, to the extent that you are prominent, renowned, leading, or well-known in the field of arts.

To qualify for an O-1 visa in the motion picture or television industry, you must demonstrate extraordinary achievement. This is evidenced by a degree of skill and recognition significantly above that ordinarily encountered, to the extent that you are recognized as outstanding, notable or leading in the motion picture and/or television field.

To qualify for an O-2 visa, your assistance must be an “integral part” of the O-1A visa holder’s performance and you must have critical skills and experience with the O-1 visa holder that are not of a general nature and cannot be readily performed by a U.S. worker. In the case of an O-2 visa holder in the motion picture or television industry, you must have skills and experience with the O-1 visa holder that are not of a general nature and which are critical either based on a pre-existing longstanding working relationship or, with respect to the specific production, because significant production (including pre- and post-production work) will take place both inside and outside the United States and your continuing participation is essential to the successful completion of the production.

Application Process for an O-1 Visa

A U.S. employer, U.S. agent, or foreign employer through a U.S. agent should file (see Form I-129, Petition for Nonimmigrant Worker) on your behalf, along with the required evidence according to the form instructions. Your employer or agent cannot file the petition more than one year before they actually need your services. To avoid delays, your employer or agent should file your Form I-129 at least 45 days before the date of employment.

In addition to Form I-129, the petitioner must submit the documentary evidence discussed below:

Consultation

The Petitioner must provide a written advisory opinion from a peer group (including labor organizations) or a person with expertise in the beneficiary’s area of ability. If the O-1 petition is for an individual with extraordinary achievement in motion picture or television, the consultation must come from an appropriate labor union and a management organization with expertise in the beneficiary’s area of ability.

When a consultation includes a watermark or other distinctive marks to confirm the authenticity of the document, petitioners should submit to USCIS the version containing the watermark or other distinctive marks. Copies of documents that do not contain the appropriate watermark or other distinctive marks may raise doubts about the authenticity of the document and may result in processing delays. For example, USCIS may request that the petitioner submit the original version of the document. To avoid processing delays, petitioners should ensure that they submit the appropriate version and that any associated watermark or other distinctive marks are legible.

Exceptions to the Consultation Requirement

If your employer or agent can demonstrate that an appropriate peer group, including a labor organization, does not exist, then we will base our decision on the evidence they submit in support of the Form I-129. We may waive a consultation if you have extraordinary ability in the field of arts and you are seeking readmission to perform similar services within two years of the date of a previous consultation. Your employer or agent should submit a waiver request and a copy of the previous consultation with the petition.

For more information on consultations for O nonimmigrants, see USCIS Policy Manual Volume 2, Part M, Chapter 7.

Contract between petitioner and beneficiary

The Petitioner must submit a copy of any written contract between you and the petitioner or a summary of the terms of the oral agreement under which you will be employed. 

For additional information about the contract requirement for O-1 nonimmigrants, and considerations specific to agent petitioners, see USCIS Policy Manual Volume 2, Part M, Chapter 7.

Itineraries

The petitioner must provide an explanation of the nature of the events or activities, the beginning and ending dates for the events or activities, and a copy of any itinerary for the events or activities, if applicable. The petitioner must establish that there are events or activities in your field of extraordinary ability for the validity period requested such as an itinerary for a tour or a series of events.

Agents

A U.S. agent may be your actual employer, the representative of both you and the employer, or a person or entity authorized by the employer to act for, or in place of, the employer as its agent.  Detailed information regarding USCIS policy relating to agent petitioners can be found in the USCIS Policy Manual Volume 2, Part M, Chapter 3.

Evidence demonstrating O-1 Eligibility

The petitioner must provide evidence demonstrating your extraordinary ability in the sciences, arts, business, education, or athletics, or extraordinary achievement in the motion picture industry.  The record must include at least three different types of documentation corresponding to those listed in the regulations, or comparable evidence in certain circumstances, and the evidence must, as a whole, demonstrate that you meet the relevant standards for classification. 

Application Process O-2 Visa

Your employer or agent should file Form I-129, Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker, on your behalf, along with the required evidence according to the form instructions. They must petition for you in connection with the services of an O-1 artist or athlete, but you and the O-1 artist or athlete must each have your own Form I-129. Your employer or agent cannot file your Form I-129 more than one year before the artist or athlete will begin employment. To avoid delays, your employer or agent should file your Form I-129 at least 45 days before the date of employment.

In addition to Form I-129, Petition for Nonimmigrant Worker, the petitioner must submit the following documentary evidence:

Consultation

If you will support of an individual with extraordinary ability in athletics or the arts, the consultation must be from the appropriate labor organization; or

If you will support of an individual with extraordinary achievement in motion pictures or television, the consultation must come from an appropriate labor organization and a management organization with expertise in the skill area involved.

Evidence Demonstrating O-2 Eligibility

The evidence should establish your current essentiality, critical skills, and experience with the O-1 beneficiary and that you have substantial experience performing the critical skills and essential support services for the O-1.

In the case of a specific motion picture or television production, the evidence should establish that significant production, including pre- and post-production, has taken place outside the United States and will take place inside the United States, and that you’re your continuing participation is essential to the successful completion of the production.

After We Approve Your Petition

Once we approve your petition, you can apply for your visa at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate. Department of State (DOS) establishes visa application processing and issuance fees. For more information, see DOS’s Temporary Workers Visas Department of State page.

Period of Stay/Extension of Stay

Initial Period of Stay   Extension of Stay
Up to three years We will determine the time you need to accomplish the initial event or activity in increments, up to one year.

As an O nonimmigrant, you may be admitted to the United States for the validity period of the petition, plus a period of up to 10 days before the validity period begins and 10 days after the validity period ends. You are only authorized to work during the validity period of the petition.

For detailed information regarding validity periods, see USCIS Policy Manual Volume 2, Part M, Chapter 9.

Extension of Stay

If you need to extend your stay to continue or complete the same event or activity, your employer or agent must file the following documents with USCIS:

  • Form I-129, Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker;
  • A copy of your Form I-94, Arrival/Departure Record; and
  • A statement explaining the reasons for the extension.

To help us process your request, the statement should describe the event or activity that was the basis for the original approval and confirm that the extension is needed so you can continue or complete the same event or activity as described.

Your spouse and children must file Form I-539, Application to Extend/Change

Nonimmigrant Status, and submit any supporting documents to extend their stay.

For more information see our Form I-539 page.

Family of O-1 and O-2 Visa Holders

If your spouse and children under the age of 21 will accompanying you or join you later (called “following to join”), they may be eligible to apply for an O-3 nonimmigrant visa, that will be subject to the same period of admission and limitations as you. They may not work in the United States under this classification, but they may participate in full-time or part-time study on an O-3 visa.

Changing Employers

If you are an O-1 nonimmigrant in the United States and want to change employers, the new employer must file Form I-129 with the USCIS office listed on the form instructions. If an agent filed your original petition, your new employer must file an amended petition with evidence showing they are your new employer and a request for an extension of stay.

Material Change in Terms and Conditions of Employment

If there has been any material change, those other than the addition of additional performances or engagements that require someone of extraordinary ability, in the terms and conditions of your employment or eligibility, your employer or agent must file an amended Form I-129 with the service center where the original petition was filed.

Athletes

There are special rules for O-1 professional athletes. If you are traded from one team to another, employment authorization will continue with the new team for 30 days, during which time the new employer must file a new Form I-129. Filing the new Form I-129 within this 30-day period extends your employment authorization at least until we process your petition. If the new employer does not file a new Form I-129 within 30 days of the trade, you lose your employment authorization. You also lose your employment authorization if we deny your new Form I-129.

Return Transportation

If your employer terminates your employment for reasons other than your voluntary resignation, they must pay for the reasonable cost of return transportation to your last place of residence before entering the United States. If an agent filed the petition for the employer, the agent and the employer are equally responsible for paying these costs.

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