O-1 Extraordinary Ability or Achievement
Please note: Our office cannot assist the hiring department with the O-1 process.
This information sheet outlines the several ways that it is possible to obtain O-1 status in the United States. For more information about O visas in general, ISSS recommends consultation with a qualified immigration attorney. A list of recommended attorneys in the Philadelphia area is available online.
What is the O-1 visa? The O-1 visa is a non-immigrant employment-based visa classification for foreign nationals who can demonstrate the sustained national or international acclaim and recognition for achievements in the science, education, business or athletics. It requires the employer file a Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker (Form I-129), along with evidence of the individual's extraordinary ability. The "extraordinary ability in the field of science, education, business, or athletics means a level of expertise indicating that the person is one of the small percentage who have arisen to the very top of the field of endeavor." For further information please visit USCIS.
Qualifying for the O-1 Visa
Under federal law there are three different standards for the O-1 category:
- the most exacting standard applies to those individuals in the sciences, education, business and athletics;
- a much less rigorous standard applies to individuals in the arts;
- an intermediate standard applies to individuals in the motion picture or TV industries.
The O-1 visa category is reserved for those individuals who have risen to the very top of their fields of endeavor and can provide documentary evidence to substantiate this claim. To qualify for O-1 visa status, an individual in the sciences, education, business or athletics must demonstrate national or international acclaim and recognition for achievements in the field of expertise by providing evidence of:
- the receipt of a major, internationally recognized award; OR
- at least three of the following:
- receipt of nationally or internationally recognized prizes or awards for excellence in the field of endeavor;
- membership in an association in the field which requires outstanding achievements of its members;
- published material in professional or major trade publications or major media about the individual concerning his/her work in the field. (This documentation must include a copy of the article showing the title, date and author. If the article is not in English, a translation must be provided);
- evidence of participation on a panel, or individually, as a judge of the work of others. (This can include participation as a panel of experts for a Ph.D. defense and/or review of articles and books prior to publication.);
- scientific, scholarly, or business-related contributions of major significance to the field. (This documentation should take the form of letters from peers who are considered to be experts in the field attesting to the individuals major contributions.);
- authorship of scholarly articles in the field in professional journals or other major media
- employment in a critical or essential capacity for organizations and establishments that have a distinguished reputation;
- high salary or other remuneration commanded by the individual for services.(This must be accompanied by contracts or other reliable evidence.);
- other comparable evidence.
Requirements and Restrictions
In addition to meeting the criteria outlined above, the individual must be coming to the United States to work in his or her area of extraordinary ability or achievement. However, the position, event, or performance need not require the services of a person of extraordinary ability.
Employment is position, employer, and date specific.
O-1 visa classification is granted by the USCIS. The employer must submit a petition that is employer and position specific to USCIS on behalf of the employee. The foreign national granted O-1 visa classification will be authorized by USCIS to be employed only by the employer that submitted the O-1 application and only for the time period and the position, event or activity for which the USCIS granted approval. The employee may not commence employment prior to the date authorized by USCIS and must terminate employment no later than the date authorized.
Termination of employment
If the O-1 foreign worker terminates employment with the petitioning employer, s/he will immediately lose O-1 status and is required to depart the U.S. immediately or risk action by the USCIS for violation of immigration regulations. If the employer dismisses the foreign worker prior to the date authorized by USCIS it can be held responsible for return transportation of the foreign worker to his/her last place of residence outside the U.S.
Working for another employer
If the O-1 foreign worker wishes to change her/his employer, the new employer must file another O-1 petition and is not permitted to employ the foreign worker until it has received approval from USCIS for its O-1 application.
Duration of O-1 Visa Classification
There is no statutory limit on the period of time an individual may remain in the U.S. in O-1 visa status. However, the initial authorized period of stay will not be approved for more than three years. Extensions of stay, in one year increments, can be granted as long as the individual is continuing in the same position or activity for which they were originally granted O-1 status.
Advisory Opinion From a "Peer Group" or Labor Union
Prior to filing the O-1 visa petition with the USCIS, the employer must obtain an advisory opinion from an appropriate consulting entity or a labor organization, or show that an appropriate peer group, labor organization or management organization does not exist.
Under current federal regulations, if the position is covered under a union contract, the employer may obtain a letter of no objection signed by an official union representative of the local chapter. The letter must state the name of the employer and the name of the foreign worker, along with the name of the labor organization and the name and address of the local chapter. The letter must state that the labor organization has reviewed pertinent information about the position and the foreign worker's credentials and that the hiring of the foreign worker will not "adversely affect the wages or working conditions of U.S. workers and that, therefore, it has no objection to the hiring of the foreign worker".
Filing the O-1 Petition with USCIS
The employer must prepare and file a packet of information and documentation which includes:
- USCIS Form I-129 with O supplement;
- copies of the foreign worker's curriculum vitae/resume and educational background ;
- substantial supporting documentation as evidence that the foreign worker meets the criteria for the O-1 visa as outlined above;
- information about the employer, including financial information;
- a letter from the employer offering the position to the foreign national which includes a brief description of the position, including responsibilities and educational/professional requirements, dates of employment and salary offered. The letter must also include a statement of the foreign workers qualifications for the position and attest to his/her outstanding abilities and contributions within the occupational field for which the classification is being sought.
- the no objection letter from the union (or an advisory opinion from a peer group);
- a check made out to USCIS (for the filing fee).
The USCIS will review the contents of the petition to determine if the foreign worker meets the criteria for classification as an O-1 Alien of Extraordinary Ability and will notify the employer of its approval or denial.
Obtaining an O-1 Visa and Beginning Employment
Once the employer has obtained the approval notice from the USCIS, the foreign worker may apply for an O-1 visa at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate in his/her country of residence. The foreign worker presents the O-1 visa at the U.S. port of entry, and is admitted in O-1 visa status to assume legal employment.
In some instances, the foreign national may already be present in the U.S. in a non-immigrant visa category other than O-1. In these situations, it may be possible to request a change of status to O-1 on behalf of the foreign worker. If granted, the Notice of Approval will reflect the change to O-1 status and the foreign worker may begin employment as of the date indicated on the approval notice. In these instances, it is not necessary for the foreign worker to obtain an actual O-1 visa stamp to begin employment. However, if the O-1 foreign worker travels outside the borders of the U.S. s/he must obtain an O-1 visa from a U.S. Embassy or Consulate in order to re-enter the U.S. to continue legal employment.
If the individual works for more than one employer at the same time, each employer must file a separate petition with the USCIS.
The spouse and unmarried children under the age of twenty-one may apply for O-3 visa status in order to accompany the O-1 visa holder to the US. O-3 visa status does not confer authorization for employment in the US.
Termination of O-1 employment
If the employment is terminated for reasons other than voluntary resignation, the employer is liable for the reasonable cost of return transportation of the individual to his/her last place of residence prior to entry into the US.
USCIS regulations state that the approval of a permanent labor certification or filing of a preference petition for permanent residence shall not be a basis for denying an O-1 petition, a request to extend such a petition, or the alien's application for admission, change of status, or extension of stay. [8 CFR 214.2(o)(13)]
J-1 Two Year Foreign Residence Requirement
The J-1 may be subject to the requirement and still apply for the O-1 visa outside the US. According to USCIS correspondence, a J-1 nonimmigrant in valid status who qualifies as an individual of extraordinary ability "may (1) have an O-1 nonimmigrant visa petition approved on his or her behalf and (2) proceed abroad and apply for and receive from the State Department an O-1 visa, without first having to fulfill the two-year foreign residence requirement or obtain a waiver thereof." Interpreter Releases, Vol. 71, No. 39, Oct.7, 1994 8. INS Discusses § 212(e) Bar for J Aliens Who Qualify as O-1s [71 IR 1360]