Are You Extraordinary in Your Field?

If so, you may qualify for an O-1 visa.

An O-1 visa is a nonimmigrant visa that allows a foreign national to reside and work in the United States for a period of up to three years. O-1 visa renewal is easy and unlimited, and some visa holders eventually qualify to apply for a green card through the EB-1 process.

There are two categories of O-1 visas. The O-1A visa is for people with extraordinary ability in the field of science, education, business or athletics. A successful applicant will have risen to the very top in their profession.

The O-1B visa is for people who are prominent in the arts. "Arts" is defined very broadly and includes fields as diverse as fine arts, visual arts, music, culinary arts, and performing arts (including the people behind the scenes). The standard for extraordinary ability is lower than that for the O-1A visa. Applicants need only show that they are prominent in their field. To do so, they must provide evidence that they possess skill and recognition substantially above that normally encountered.

A USCIS officer is not qualified to determine whether a particular person is actually good at what they do. Therefore, the officer looks at evidence of that person's professional reputation. Applicants are not really trying to prove they are good at something; they are trying to prove that other people (who are in turn important and distinguished) think they are good at something.

If a person has received or been nominated for a major international award, such as a Nobel Prize or an Academy Award, that is usually sufficient in and of itself to demonstrate that the person has a strong professional reputation (although more evidence is always better). Of course, most O-1 applicants and recipients have not received these awards. These individuals are considered using a different test.

When evaluating an O-1 application, an officer must find that at least three of eight identified elements have been established. The elements differ slightly for the O-1A, the O-1B for motion pictures or television, and the O-1B for the arts. Some of the common elements across these three categories are expert opinion letters, awards or honors received, media coverage, and participation in important events or projects. O-1A applicants should also show original contributions to their field, such as articles that are cited elsewhere.

Benefits of the O-1 visa are that education is not taken into account and the job does not have to be a "specialty position," or even a particularly distinguished one. People who don't qualify for an H-1B visa for these reasons might qualify for the O-1 visa.

The detriment is that USCIS has an enormous amount of discretion in adjudicating these visas. Therefore, it is critical to work with an experienced attorney to prepare a strong application.

If you'd like to know more, contact us at [email protected]

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