Working in the United States and fulfilling the American Dream is a wish for many people in other countries. Immigrants fill millions of jobs throughout the country, availing of amazing opportunities they can’t find anywhere else.

Immigrants can apply for work visas and lawful permanent resident status (green card) based on their employment in the U.S.  Some may eventually be eligible to naturalize and become U.S. citizens.  As far as work visas are concerned, a select group of immigrants may be eligible to be granted an O-1 visa, a visa allowing certain foreign nationals to enter the U.S. to apply their exceptional skills and talents and in a variety of contexts.

Are you curious to learn more about what an O-1 visa is and if you might qualify for one? This guide will discuss everything you need to know about the topic.

What’s an O-1 Visa?

An O-1 visa is for individuals with exceptional talent in certain fields. These fields can include:

  • Science
  • Education
  • Business
  • Athletics
  • Arts

It can also include people who have shown extraordinary achievement in the television or motion picture industry. These individuals have to be internationally or nationally recognized for their abilities.

There are a few different classifications of O visas. They are:

  • O-1A: Those in athletics, business, education, and sciences
  • O-1B: Those in the television, motion picture, or arts industries
  • O-2: Those accompanying an O-1 athlete or artist for a performance or special event
  • O-3: Children or spouses of O-1 or O-2 visa holders

What Are O-1 Visa Requirements?

As we mentioned earlier, you have to demonstrate exceptional abilities to be considered for an O-1 visa.   With an O-1 visa, a foreign national is eligible to travel to the U.S. and work in their area of expertise – for themselves or a petitioning employer.

Exceptional talent means that you’re in the small percentage at the top of your field. You also need to have attained international recognition by virtue of a major award, or national acclaim as evidenced by documentation in at least three of the following categories:

  • Membership in acclaimed associations
  • International or national awards for excellence
  • Published articles about you in a major or professional trade publication
  • Participation in a panel where you judge others in your field
  • Authorship of articles in your field that are published in major media or professional journals
  • Get paid a high salary
  • Professional experience playing an indispensable role
  • Major contributions to your area of expertise

These categories are up to interpretation depending on who’s evaluating and approving your visa application. That’s why it’s important to provide as much evidence as possible to maximize your chances of success.

In addition to the above professional requirements, you’ll also need the following:

  • Filing Fees: $460 to process your petition
  • USCIS Forms: Form 1-129 with O Supplement and Form G-28
  • Written Employment Contract: Between the beneficiary and the applicant, or similar document
  • Advisory Opinion: From an outside entity that states you have extraordinary abilities (not needed in all circumstances though)
  • Description:  Detailed presentation of exactly what you’ll be doing in the US.

As you can see, applying for and obtaining an O-1 visa is a complicated process. That’s why working with an experienced immigration lawyer is a great choice. They’ll ensure that every step of the process is handled with care.

Why Would I Need an O-1 Visa?

There are a lot of reasons why you might want to apply for an O-1 visa. It can provide you with numerous benefits that you can’t experience with other types of work visas.   Some of the advantages include:

  • No annual cap on the number of O-1 visas granted (unlike H-1B visas)
  • Can extend your visa indefinitely
  • No specific educational requirements
  • Considered a “dual intent” visa
  • Might be available to those who own a large portion of their company

The “dual intent” visa point is relevant because for practical purposes, the O-1 visa does not necessarily require you to establish an intent to return to your home country. You could also try to apply for a green card, which grants you lawful permanent residence.

How Does the Application Process Work?

Now that you know what you need to qualify for an O-1 visa, let’s discuss how the process works. You and your future employer will need to be active participants in the process.

File a Petition

An agent or your employer in the US has to complete and fill out Form I-129, with O visa supplement. That’s the Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker. They’ll also have to provide the necessary documents and pay the $460 application fee.

The petition is to be submitted at one of USCIS’ Service Centers, which are located in:

  • California
  • Nebraska
  • Vermont
  • Texas

They’ll need to apply at minimum 45 days before you start your new job. They can’t do it earlier than a year before your start date.  Further, with the payment of an additional $2,500.00, petitioners can have their filings reviewed on an expedited basis, i.e. in 15 days or less.

Once USCIS reviews your petition, they’ll give your agent or employer their decision, or if more information or documentation is required, a Request for Evidence will be issued.  Once US CIS approves the petition,  you can move forward with the application process before a U.S. consular post in your home country (although certain qualified applicants can seek a change of status while in the U.S.)

File Form DS-160

Form DS-160 is an electronic application that everyone applying for a visa at a U.S. consular post needs to fill out. You’ll fill out information like:

  • Your contact details
  • Travel and passport information
  • Family information
  • Work and education experience
  • Previous trips to the US

Pay the Visa Fee

You’ll also have to pay an additional visa fee during this process. Since an O-1 visa is petition based, you’ll pay a $190 fee.

You can pay the fee through your bank or online. Make sure you keep your receipt. You’ll need it at your appointment.

Schedule Your Interview

Once you’ve submitted Form DS-160, you can schedule a visa interview at the US Embassy. You can schedule it through their online portal.

Compile Your Documents

You’ll need to gather the documents that we discussed earlier before heading to your appointment. You’ll also need to submit the following:

  • Visa fee receipt
  • Passport
  • Employment
  • Proof of your abilities
  • Notice of USCIS’s decision
  • Photos per Dept. of State specifications
  • Interview appointment letter

Show Up for Your Interview

You’ll need to bring your documents to your appointment, an appointment involving an interview conducted by a U.S. Department of State visa officer.

Some of the questions you can expect during the interview include:

  • How long have you worked in your industry?
  • How are you qualified?
  • Why do you need to travel to the US and where will you be working?

Once the interview is completed, you’ll hear about their decision very soon.

Contact an Experienced Immigration Lawyer in Chicago

Applying for and getting an O-1 visa is a complicated process. There are so many rules and regulations surrounding this type of visa. That’s why we recommend working with an immigration lawyer in Chicago to make sure the process goes smoothly.

The Law Offices of Richard Hanus are here to make that happen for you. We have experience working on a wide range of immigration issues. Get in touch with us to schedule a consultation.