O Visas: Foreign Nationals of Extraordinary Ability or Achievement

Two Types

The O-1 visa category is reserved for persons who have:

  1. Extraordinary ability in the fields of science, art, education, business, or athletics as demonstrated by sustained national or international acclaim; or
  2. Demonstrated record of extraordinary achievement in the motion picture or television industry.

The O-1 visa petition must be filed by the person’s employer. If the person will work for more than one employer, each employer must file a petition on his or her behalf. The petition must show that: (i) the person will work in the area of extraordinary ability while in the United States; and (ii) the person has extraordinary ability. 8 C.F.R. § 214.2(o)(3)(i).

To establish that a person has extraordinary ability in science, education, business, or athletics, the petition must provide evidence of: (i) the person’s receipt of a major internationally recognized award, such as the Nobel Prize; or (ii) at least three of the following:

  1. Documentation of the person’s receipt of nationally or internationally recognized prizes or awards for excellence in the field of endeavor;
  2. Documentation of the person’s membership in associations in the field which require outstanding achievements of their members, as judged by recognized national or international experts in their disciplines or fields;
  3. Published materials in professional or major trade publications or major media about the person, relating to the person’s work in the field;
  4. Evidence of the person’s participation on a panel, or individually, as a judge of the work of others in the same or in an allied field of specialization;
  5. Evidence of the person’s original scientific, scholarly, or business-related contributions of major significance in the field;
  6. Evidence of the person’s authorship of scholarly articles in the field, in professional journals, or other major media;
  7. Evidence that the person has been employed in a critical or essential capacity for organizations and establishments that have distinguished reputations; and
  8. Evidence that the person has commanded and now commands a high salary or other remuneration for services evidenced by contracts or other reliable evidence.

The evidentiary standards for establishing extraordinary ability in the arts and extraordinary achievement in the motion picture or television industry are similar to those listed above. However, they are tailored to these particular fields. For example, extraordinary ability or achievement may be demonstrated by being nominated for or receiving an Academy Award, an Emmy, a Grammy, or a Director’s Guild Award.

In addition to the petition, the employer must submit an advisory opinion from a “peer group” regarding the person’s eligibility for the visa. The peer group can be a professional organization or association of persons in the same field. The advisory opinion should describe the person’s ability and achievements in the field, describe the duties to be performed, and state whether the position requires the services of a person with extraordinary ability.

O-2 Visas for Accompanying Foreign Nationals Providing Essential Support

The O-2 visa category is designed to facilitate the admission of persons providing essential support to artists and athletes of extraordinary ability, and aliens of extraordinary achievement. Although a separate petition must be filed for a person seeking O-2 status, the classification does not allow the person to work separate and apart from the O-1 alien to whom he or she provides support.

To accompany an alien of extraordinary ability, the person must:

  1. Assist in the performance of the O-1 alien,
  2. Be an integral part of the actual performance, and
  3. Have critical skills and experience with the O-1 alien which are not general in nature or possessed by a U.S. worker.

To accompany an alien of extraordinary achievement, the person must have critical skills based on:

  1. A pre-existing longstanding working relationship with the O-1 alien, or
  2. Continuing and essential participation in a significant production that will take place in and outside the United States. As with the O-1 category, the employer must submit an advisory opinion from a “peer group” regarding the person’s eligibility for an O-2 visa.

The O-1 and O-2 visas are normally issued for the duration of the event or activity to be pursued in the United States, with a maximum length of three years. For purposes of the O visa, an “event” is defined as a science project, conference, convention, lecture series, tour, exhibit, business project, academic year or engagement.

Spouses and minor children of O-1 and O-2 visa holders may receive dependent O-3 visas. However, O-3 spouses and children are not authorized to work in the United States.