O-1 Individuals with Extraordinary Ability or Achievement

The O-1 “outstanding” visa category is a visa category for foreign nationals who have extraordinary ability in the sciences, arts, education, business, or athletes which has been demonstrated by sustained national or international acclaim. An O-1 must be filed by the U.S. petitioning employer although it is not required that the foreign national will be performing services requiring a person of O-1 caliber.

The USCIS has defined “extraordinary ability” in the in the sciences, education, business, or athletics as “[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.” To prove extraordinary ability in this category, the foreign national must demonstrate either the receipt of a major, internationally-recognized award, such as a Nobel Prize, or evidence of at least 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

The USCIS has set forth different criteria for proving distinction in the arts, which is defined as “distinction” and “a high level of achievement…evidenced by a degree of skill and recognition substantially above that ordinarily encountered.” The foreign national must have 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 have evidence of at least 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

Within the O visa category is O-2, for individuals who will accompany an O-1 artist or athlete to assist in a specific event or performance. For the O-1A athlete, the O-2’s assistance must be an “integral part” of the O-1A’s activity. For an O-1B artist, the O-2’s assistance must be “essential” to the completion of the O-1B’s production. The petitioning employer must further establish that the O-2 worker has critical skills and experience with the O-1 that cannot be readily performed by a U.S. worker and which are essential to the successful performance of the O-1. Dependents of the principal O-1 are eligible for O-3 visa classification. An O-1 petition can be granted for up to three years provided that the petitioning employer can demonstrate the need for the O-1 visa holder’s services for that amount of time.

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