The O Visa: Visas for Extraordinarily Talented Individuals

The O visa is considered a short-term work visa. It is available to people with job offers to do specialized work in the United States.

Who Is Eligible to Apply?

Workers who are deemed to be extraordinarily talented in the sciences, arts, athletics, education, or business may be considered eligible. The worker’s proficiency in their skill must be proven by having received national or international acclaim for it, or by achieving a unique recognition within their particular field of expertise.

Criterion to be considered for each category:

  1. Extraordinary ability in the fields of science, education, business or athletics means a level of expertise indicating that the person is one of the small percentage who has risen to the very top of the field of endeavor.


  1. Extraordinary ability in the field of arts means distinction.  Distinction means a high level of achievement in the field of the 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.


  1. To qualify for an O visa in the motion picture or television industry, the beneficiary must demonstrate extraordinary achievement. This is evidenced by a degree of skill and recognition significantly above that ordinarily encountered in the field. The person must be recognized as outstanding, notable, or leading in the motion picture and/or television field.
How Can Someone Prove They are Extraordinarily Talented?

Depending on which field an applicant’s skills are based in, the burden of proving their extraordinary talent will require them to prove different types of evidence. The following information can be found in full detail on the USCIS Website.

For an individual who claims to have an extraordinary ability in the field of science, education, business, or athletics, evidence of at least (3) three of the following:

Receipt of nationally or internationally recognized prizes or awards for excellence in the field of endeavor
Membership in associations in the field for which classification is sought which require outstanding achievements, as judged by recognized national or international experts in the field
Published material in professional or major trade publications, newspapers or other major media about the beneficiary and the beneficiary’s work in the field for which classification is sought
Original scientific, scholarly, or business-related contributions of major significance in the field
Authorship of scholarly articles in professional journals or other major media in the field for which classification is sought
A high salary or other remuneration for services as evidenced by contracts or other reliable evidence
Participation on a panel, or individually, as a judge of the work of others in the same or in a field of specialization allied to that field for which classification is sought
Employment in a critical or essential capacity for organizations and establishments that have a distinguished reputation

For an individual who claims to have an extraordinary artistic ability, evidence that the beneficiary has received, or been nominated for, significant national or international awards or prizes in the particular field, such as an Academy Award, Emmy, Grammy or Director’s Guild Award, or evidence of at least (3) three of the following:  

Performed and will perform services as a lead or starring participant in productions or events which have a distinguished reputation as evidenced by critical reviews, advertisements, publicity releases, publications, contracts or endorsements
Achieved national or international recognition for achievements, as shown by critical reviews or other published materials by or about the beneficiary in major newspapers, trade journals, magazines, or other publications
Performed and will perform in a lead, starring, or critical role for organizations and establishments that have a distinguished reputation as evidenced by articles in newspapers, trade journals, publications, or testimonials.
A record of major commercial or critically acclaimed successes, as shown by such indicators as title, rating or standing in the field, box office receipts, motion picture or television ratings and other occupational achievements reported in trade journals, major newspapers or other publications
Received significant recognition for achievements from organizations, critics, government agencies or other recognized experts in the field in which the beneficiary is engaged, with the testimonials clearly indicating the author’s authority, expertise and knowledge of the beneficiary’s achievements
A high salary or other substantial remuneration for services in relation to others in the field, as shown by contracts or other reliable evidence


What are the Benefits of Having an O-1 Visa?

O visas allow the visa holder to work legally in the U.S. for their O visa sponsor. Keep in mind that if the visa holder wants to change their job, applying for a new visa would become necessary. An O visa can be issued quicker than other types of work visas and can be granted for a period of up to three years, with unlimited one-year extensions beyond that. Spouses and unmarried children under the age of twenty-one are also permitted to accompany an O visa holder but they are not authorized to work in the United States.

What Is the Application Process?

First and foremost, an individual can apply for an O visa only if they have an existing job offer in the United States. O visas are only issued based on an individual’s skillset, so a team of individuals cannot be eligible unless each person on the team meets the criteria. Additionally, an applicant must be coming to the U.S. to perform in some function related to their area of extraordinary ability.

The petitioning employer should file Form I-129, Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker with the USCIS in order to initiate the process. The form should be submitted along with any applicable documentation and evidence and may not be filed more than one year before the actual need for the applicant’s services are desired. USCIS recommends that the application should be sent at least 45 days before the date of employment in order to avoid delays.

Once the petition has been approved by USCIS, the beneficiary-worker can apply at their local consulate or embassy for their O visa.

If you or someone you know is interested in pursuing an O visa, you might want to consider consulting with an immigration attorney for a thorough analysis of your eligibility and for assistance with the application process. The attorneys at Gilles Law, PLLC are here to assist with your inquiries.