Written by attorney Carl Michael Shusterman

How Can I Qualify for an O Visa?

Ask Mr. Shusterman: How Can I Qualify for an O Visa?

Have you ever wondered how all those foreign born Oscar-winning actors, directors, and cinematographers are able to come to work in the United States? Or for that matter, those brilliant foreign-born scientists churning out innovative scientific developments and research papers? What about all those foreign athletes performing all over the U.S. for the NBA and the NFL?

If I were a betting man, I would bet that most of these people are living and working in the United States on O visas. Of course, some of them might also be here on P visas or on H-1B visas.

We pride ourselves on attracting the best and the brightest to our country . The O visa category is reserved for extraordinary people who come here to work in the sciences, education, business, athletics (O-1A visa), or in the arts, motion pictures or television industry (O-1B visa).

Who is considered “extraordinary"? For scientists, athletes or a business professionals, the person must be part of that small percentage of persons who have risen to the very top of their field of endeavor.

If you are an artist, “extraordinary ability" means you have achieved “distinction": you are prominent, renowned, leading, or well-known in your field.

More specifically, in the field of motion pictures or television industry, the foreign national’s extraordinary achievement would translate to skill and recognition significantly above that ordinarily encountered, to the extent that the person is recognized as outstanding, notable or leading in the field.

If we apply for a researcher or a scientist for an O Visa (or an EB-1 green card), we like to estimate the impact and volume of his or her research in the particular field of work, which can correspond to their chances for an O visa approval. Nowadays, this information can be accessed with one click using Google Scholar!

In order to show extraordinary achievement, an individual can submit evidence that he or she 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 alternatively, that they can demonstrate that they meet at least 3 of the alternate criteria.

The O Visa petition must include a written advisory opinion from a peer group, labor organization, or a person designated by the peer group or labor organization to be an expert in the area of ability. This designation is waived if the applicant can demonstrate that such an appropriate peer group or labor organization does not exist in their field.

You may be wondering why the high bar of “extraordinary ability" for the O Visa is necessary or useful when compared with the H-1B Visa. Shouldn’t all these movie directors and scientists apply for an H-1B instead, so they don’t have to prove their ability? Not necessarily, because despite their exceptional ability, the foreign national may not have a bachelor’s or equivalent degree to qualify for the H-1B. They also may have already exhausted the six years allowed under the H-1B program (the O visa has no limit on extensions), or their employer may not be able to pay the prevailing wage required by the H-1B program. Lastly, the O Visa may allow J-1 visa holders to work beyond the constraints of the J-1 visa program even if they have not obtained a J-1 waiver.

If you are a foreign national with a truly spectacular skill, career, or ability that you could contribute to a U.S. industry, the O visa may be your ideal way to temporarily work in the U.S. without being subject to the demanding requirements and responsibilities of the H-1B and J-1 visa programs. If you qualify, an O visa may be your ticket to long-term temporary residence in the U.S.

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