For those with extraordinary talent or ability, the O visa and specifically the O-1 category visas for the US are an excellent option. This ability must be demonstrated in the field of arts, sciences, education, business, or athletics. You can also opt for the visa type O in the film or television industry with nationally and internationally recognized achievements.
In this article we are going to explain what an O visa is in the US, answering everything you need to know in 2023. Being immigration lawyers in Los Angeles for more than 40 years, we are at your service to answer any questions.
Table of Contents
O nonimmigrant visa categories
The O visa has 4 categories, depending on who applies for it:
- O-1A: Individuals with extraordinary ability in education, science, business, or athletics. It excludes individuals from the arts, film, or television industry.
- O-1B: Individuals with extraordinary achievement in the television industry, motion pictures, or the arts.
- O-2 : Companions of the artist or athlete O-1 visa holders for a specific event or presentation.
- O-3: Spouses or children of non-immigrants of the O-1 and O-2 visa.
Examples of professions eligible for the O visa
It is common to confuse this visa with the belief that it is mainly for artists, as in the case of the P visa. In reality, the O visa covers many more professions. Here is a brief example of these:
- Brand Directors;
- Advertising directors;
- Hair stylists;
- Makeup artists;
Eligibility for the O visa
O-1 visa Requirements:
- The recipient must demonstrate extraordinary abilities that are acclaimed on a sustained national and international basis.
- You must travel to the US temporarily to continue working in your area of extraordinary ability.
- Extraordinary ability in education, science, business, or athletics means having achieved a specialty level. That is, to be part of the small percentage of people in the highest sphere in their field of specialty.
O-2 visa Requirements:
In the arts:
- Possessing extraordinary ability in the arts means having distinction.
- This distinction means reaching a superior degree of skill above the common.
- Prominent recognition and being well regarded and outstanding in the field of the arts.
For the film or television industry:
- They must demonstrate extraordinary achievement as evidenced by above-average skill and recognition.
- The person is recognized as notable, extraordinary, or outstanding in the field of motion pictures and/or television.
How do I apply for an O-1 visa?
A US employer, US agent, or foreign employer through a US agent, must file Form I-129, Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker on behalf of the beneficiary, at the USCIS office listed in the instructions for the form.
This petition cannot be filed more than one year before the date you need to be admitted and serve in the US. To avoid delays, you must file the petition 45 days prior to the date of employment.
Along with the form, you must submit supporting documentation that is listed below.
Supporting documentation to apply for the O-1 visa
An advisory opinion written by a group of peers that includes labor organizations or individuals designated by the group with a specialty in the skill area.
If the O-1 visa petition is for a person with extraordinary achievement in film or television, it must come from a union or organization with experience and expertise in the field.
If the petition includes a distinguishing mark, the document must be sent to USCIS for verification. Copies of these documents that do not have a distinctive mark may raise doubts about the authenticity of the document and could cause delays in the processing of the case.
If this is submitted, USCIS could request the petitioner to submit the original version of the document. To avoid delays, it is important for petitioners to ensure that they file the appropriate version of the distinguishing mark.
Exceptions to consultation requirements
If the employer or sponsor demonstrates that a peer group, including a union, does not exist, the decision will be made based on the evidence on record.
USCIS may waive a consultation for an alien with extraordinary ability in the field of the arts if the alien seeks admission to perform similar services within 2 years of a prior consultation.
Copy of the contract between the beneficiary and the petitioner
The sponsor must submit a copy of any written contract between the sponsor and the beneficiary or a summary of the terms of the oral contract in which you will be employed, showing:
- The offer by the employer.
- Acceptance by the employee.
You can get more information on this through the USCIS Policy Manual , Volume 2, Part M, Chapter 7.
The petitioner must provide and show the following:
- Explanation of the nature of the activities or events.
- Start and end date.
- Copy of the itinerary or activities.
- Demonstration by the petitioner that there will be events or activities on the requested dates.
A US agent can act in three different ways.
Agent performing the duties of an employer
The Form I-129 petition for these cases must include:
- The contractual agreement between the beneficiary and the agent specifying the salary offered and other conditions of employment. A contract between the beneficiary and the entities that will ultimately use the beneficiary’s services is not required.
- If the alien must work in more than one location, it is necessary to include the itinerary with the locations and dates of work. There are no exceptions to this rule although USCIS is flexible about the detail included. What is mentioned at the beginning of the point is the minimum that must be submitted.
Multi Employer Agent
This must show that you are authorized to act as an agent for the other employers.
Agents filing petitions using Form I-129 must include the petition:
- Supporting documentation including full itinerary, dates, name of event, and addresses of current employers. Also the names, addresses of the establishments, locations and premises where the service will be provided.
- Contracts between the beneficiary and current employers; and
- Explanation of terms and conditions of employment with required documentation.
As soon as USCIS approves the application, the beneficiary can submit another one for the visa at a US consulate or embassy.
Agent acting for foreign employers
Agents in these cases must submit minimal document evidence for O-1 visa petitions. This includes:
- Summary of the terms of the oral agreement or copy of any written contract between the alien employer and the beneficiary.
- Explanation of the nature of the activities or events together with the start and end date and a copy of the itinerary.
- Advisory opinions of the appropriate advisory entity(ies).
If you have questions about agents or any other question, do not hesitate to contact us. We will be happy to solve your questions.
Elements and criteria of evidence for a O-1A Visa
In this case, it would be worth evidence that the beneficiary has received an important, internationally recognized award. For example, a Nobel Prize or evidence of at least three of the following:
- Having been awarded nationally or internationally recognized prizes in their field of specialization.
- Be a member of associations in the field for which you are seeking classification and that require outstanding achievements evaluated by international experts.
- Have a high salary or other remuneration for services proven in contracts or other reliable evidence.
- Have material published in important industry or professional publications about the petitioner and the work they do for the area they apply for.
- Original scholastic and scientific contributions related to business, with great importance in the field in question.
- Participation as a labor judge in a panel or individually in the specialized field or in one related to which you choose to classify.
- Employment in an essential or critical capacity for establishments and organizations of reputed distinction.
- Be the author of scholarly articles in professional publications or other major media in the specialized area for which classification is sought.
If these standards do not apply to the beneficiary’s occupation, the petitioner may submit comparable evidence to demonstrate eligibility.
Elements and criteria of evidence for a O-1B Visa
Here it serves to have been nominated for a national or international award of importance. For example, an Emmy or a Grammy among others. Also evidence of at least three of the following items:
- Have acted or in the future act as a leading and leading figure in productions or events of distinguished reputation. Also evidenced in reviews, advertisements, presentations or contracts among others.
- Having achieved national and international recognition as evidenced by critical reviews or material published about the beneficiary in different media or testimonials.
- Titles, ranking or placement that demonstrate a record of commercial success or popular acclaim in the applicable professional field.
- Have received significant recognition for their achievements from critics, organizations, government agencies, or other recognized experts in the beneficiary’s professional field. Also have testimonies that indicate authorship and knowledge of them.
- You receive a high salary or other special remuneration compared to others in the professional field evidenced by contracts or other reliable evidence.
If these standards do not apply to the beneficiary’s occupation, the petitioner may submit comparable evidence to demonstrate eligibility.
Note: This exception does not apply to the film and/or television industry.
O-1 visa cost
The cost of the application for the O-1 visa is $460 as a basic fee for filing Form I-129. Additionally, if you are not a US resident and are processing through a consulate, you will need to pay $190 for the O-1 visa form DS-160 online application.
If you want to process your application faster, you can pay for premium processing through the Form I-907, Premium Processing Application to expedite processing time, for an additional $2,500.
In short, the O-1 visa costs between $460 and $650 for common cases.
Change of employer for the nonimmigrant with an O-1 visa
To make the change, your new employer must file form I-129 at the USCIS office indicated in its instructions.
Please note that there is a special regulation for athletes.
- When the professional athlete changes teams, the current employment authorization with a new employer will remain in place for 30 days. In this period the new employer must file a new form I-129. This fact will already lengthen the permit until the request is granted.
- If the new employer does not submit the new form within the 30-day period, the athlete will lose their employment authorization. They will also lose it if the athlete denies the new request.
Return transportation payment
If the O visa beneficiary’s employment is terminated for reasons other than voluntary separation, the nonimmigrant’s return transportation costs to their residence outside the United States will be paid by the employer.
In the case of an agent who filed the petition on behalf of an employer it will make both the agent and the employer responsible for said cost.
Processing for O-2 visa applications
The employer must file an O-2 Visa application with USCIS using Form I-129. This will be done through the offices indicated in the instructions of the form. The O-2 nonimmigrant category alien must petition in conjunction with the petition for services for the O-1 alien athlete or artist.
The application cannot be submitted more than one year before the start date of the foreign employment. Even so, and in order to avoid delays, it is advisable to present it 45 days before that date. Along with form I-129, the petitioner must submit the following information:
For individuals with extraordinary achievement in sports or the arts: Inquiry must come from an appropriate labor union.
For individuals with extraordinary achievement in the film or television industry, the consultation must come from a labor and management organization with expertise in the beneficiary’s area of specialization.
Again in this category there are exceptions to this consultation requirement where the decision may be based on evidence from your record rather than the labor organization.
Items of evidence for the O-2 visa
The evidence submitted must show that the person is indispensible and necessary for the skills required for the O-2 visa. Also that it has experience performing critical tasks and essential support services for the O-1 nonimmigrant.
For film or television productions, the evidence must show that the beneficiary is essential for the production to be successful. With a significant part of it performed outside of the US but the completion of which will be within the US.
How many individuals can get O-2 visas to support the work of an O-1 visa holder?
The applicant for an O-1 visa can have a working group of between 2 and 15 individuals. It is something that depends on the type of work done and the talent that is shown.
What happens after O-1 and O-2 visa approval?
At this point, the beneficiary will be able to apply for their visa at the US consulate or embassy. It will be the Department of State (DOS) that determines the processes for the visa application as well as the applicable fees.
Duration and extension of the O visa
The initial period of stay is a maximum of 3 years. To extend the period of stay in the US, USCIS will be in charge. They will determine the time required to complete the activity or event in increments of up to 1 year.
New petitions that involve new events and that are different from the event included in the initial petition, could be approved for a maximum period of 3 years.
As an O type nonimmigrant, the beneficiary will be admitted to the US for the validity period of the petition, plus up to 10 days before the validity begins and 10 days after. It is important to emphasize that the beneficiary will be able to maintain their status after ending their employment for a maximum period of 60 days during the authorized period.
Documentation needed to extend the O visa
To extend the visa, the petitioner must apply to USCIS. To do so, you must submit the following documents:
- Form I-129.
- A copy of Form I-94, Beneficiary Arrival/Departure Record.
- A statement where the petitioner explains the reasons for extending the period.
The beneficiary’s spouse and children may file Form I-539, Application for Extension/Change of Nonimmigrant Status, and submit the required documentation to extend their stay.
The O-3 visa for relatives of O-1 and O-2 visa holders
- The spouse or unmarried children under the age of 21 accompanying the O-1 or O-2 nonimmigrant may be eligible to apply for the O-3 visa. All under the same period of stay and limitations as the O-1 and O-2.
- They cannot work in the US under this category, but they can study part-time or full-time.
- The O visa holder will be able to apply for a B-1 visa for their domestic employees, provided they meet the requirements.
Expert lawyers to process the O visa for the United States
You may have doubts about which visa you should apply for. In our complete guide to types of American visas, we have written detailed articles like this one for the main visas. For this reason and together with the combined 50 year experience of our lawyers, we are well aware of the dilemma that may arise.
For example, the O visa is very similar to the EB-2 visa. Its main difference is that with the latter you emigrate to the US permanently, allowing you to obtain a Green Card. That is, it would be more suitable perhaps for individuals with advanced studies beyond the bachelor’s degree or those with exceptional ability in arts, sciences or business.
The EB-1 visa opens up another option for individuals in the fields of sports, arts, sciences, education, and business. However, there may be problems with quotas per fiscal year that require holding the visa lottery.
As you can see there are different paths to the same goal and knowledge is key. The simplest thing is to seek advice from a good immigration lawyer. We have been immigration experts for more than 40 years and we will be happy to assist you.