O Nonimmigrant Visas for Individuals of Extraordinary Ability or Achievement

The O visa is a type of non-immigrant temporary work visa granted by the United States to foreign nationals who have extraordinary ability in the sciences, arts, education, business, or athletics. It also may be granted to an individual who has shown a record of extraordinary achievement in the motion picture or television industry and has been renowned nationally or internationally for those accomplishments.

Under the United States Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS), there are several different O visa classifications:

  • O-1A:  persons with extraordinary ability in the science, education, business, or athletics.
  • O-1B:  persons with extraordinary ability in the arts, or extraordinary accomplishments in the motion picture or television industry.
  • O-2:  persons who will accompany an O-1 artist or athlete to help in a certain event or performance. The O-2’s assistance has to be an “integral part” of the O-1A’s activity. For an O-1B, the O-2’s help must be “essential” to finish the O-1B’s production. Additionally, the O-2 must possess skills and experience that cannot be replaced by a U.S. worker and are crucial to the successful performance of the O-1.
  • O-3:  dependents of O-1’s and O-2’s. Dependents include an O visa holder’s spouse and children. Children must be under the age of 21. Dependents may not be employed in the U.S., although they may attend school on a part-time or full-time basis.

Extraordinary ability for an O-1 visa refers to a level of expertise that shows the person is one of the small percentage who has risen to the top of their field. Extraordinary ability for an O-2 visa in the field of art refers to distinction. This denotes a high level of achievement in the arts, as showcased by a degree of skill that reveals the applicant as prominent, leading, or well-known in the field. Extraordinary achievements in television or motion pictures refer to a degree of skill and recognition that renders the applicant as outstanding, notable, or leading in the motion picture or television field.

The application process to obtain an O-1 visa starts by the petitioner filing Form I-129, Petition for Nonimmigrant Worker, with the USCIS. The petition cannot be filed more than one year prior to the need for the foreign national’s services. It is recommended that the form should be filed at least 45 days prior to the date the work is supposed to start.

The application process to obtain an O-2 visa also begins with the petitioner filing Form I-129, Petition for Nonimmigrant Worker with the USCIS. The O-2 foreign national has to be petitioned in conjunction with the services of the O-1 artistic or athletic foreign national. Just like the O-1 visa petition, the petition cannot be filed more than one year prior to the need for the foreign national’s services. To avoid postponements, the form should be filed at least 45 days prior to the date the work is supposed to start.

An O visa is initially granted for up to three years, and it can subsequently be extended for any additional time in one-year increments.  An O non-immigrant visa holder can enter the U.S. 10 days before the O visa term begins and stay in the U.S. for up to 10 days after the O visa ends.