O1 Visa – Individuals with Extraordinary Ability or Achievement 2022

So you’ve risen to the top of your field and you want to work in the US. Do you have an extraordinary ability or demonstrated outstanding achievements in the sciences, education, business, athletics, arts, film, or television? You might be eligible for the O1 visa. Read this guide to learn about the O1 visa rules, find out if you qualify, and how to apply for an O1 visa.

What is an O1 Visa?

The O1 visa allows you to work in the US in a field relating to your extraordinary ability or achievement.

You must be able to demonstrate exceptional abilities in your field or that you’ve been recognized nationally or internationally for your achievements

The O1 is a non-immigrant visitor visa, meaning you must return home when your visa expires.

What are the O1 Visa Rules and Requirements?

To be eligible for the O1 visa, you must:

  • ​​Demonstrate extraordinary ability or a record of extraordinary achievement recognized nationally or internationally.
  • Be staying temporarily in the US to engage in work in your field of expertise.
  • Have a residence and ties to a country outside the US that you intend to returintern to once your visa expires.

There are 2 types of O1 visas, with specific eligibility rules for each:

  • The O1A visa is for individuals with an extraordinary ability in the sciences, education, business, or athletics (not including the arts, motion pictures, or television industry).
  • The O1B visa is for Individuals with an extraordinary ability in the arts or extraordinary achievements in the motion picture or television industry.

To be eligible for the O1A visa, you must:

  • Demonstrate extraordinary ability in your field that distinguishes you from your industry peers, meaning you are one of the small percentage who has arisen to the very top.

To be eligible for the O1B visa in the arts, you must:

  • Demonstrate distinction in your field, meaning you possess a degree of skill and national or international recognition substantially above your industry peers. 

To be eligible for an O1B visa in the motion picture or television industry, you must:

  • Demonstrate extraordinary achievement in your field, meaning you’re recognized as an outstanding, notable, or leading figure in the motion picture or television field.

 Learn more about the O1 visa rules and regulations here.

How Long Can I Stay in the US on an O1 Visa?

Under the O1 visa rules, you’re authorized to work in the US for three years. 

How Much Does an O1 Visa Cost?

The O1 visa cost includes:

  • $460 Form I-129 petition filing fee
  • $190 O1 visa application fee
  • Visa issuance fee, depending on your nationality e.g., $105 for Australia.

What is the O1 Visa Processing Time?

The time to get an O1 visa includes the wait time for a visa interview plus visa processing time.

Wait times for visa interviews at a US Embassy or Consulate vary by location. Check the estimated wait times here.

You can try to secure an earlier appointment by filling out the DS-160 online and paying the fee. Then check regularly (daily) for new appointments opening up due to cancellations. 

Once you complete your interview, the O1 visa processing time in 2022 is from 2 weeks to 3 months.

For information on visa locations, reviews of experiences, ratings, and feedback go to the America Josh US Visa Location Guide.

How Do I Get an O1 Visa?

There are 2 main parts to getting an O1 visa:
1. File an O1 Petition
2. Apply for an O1 Visa

  1. Your Employer Files Your O-1 Petition

    Your employer must file your O1 petition up to 6 months but no later than 45 days before your employment start date. They must file the following: 

    Form I-129:
    This is the Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker, Form I-129.

    Supporting evidence:
    – A letter from a peer group (including labor organizations) or a person with expertise in your stated field of ability.
    – Employment contract.
    – An itinerary and description of the events or activities you’ll be participating in.
    – Proof of your extraordinary ability or achievement in your field of expertise. This includes at least 3 different types of supporting documents specified in the USCIS Policy Manual. Examples include awards, published articles, participation as a subject matter expert on a panel.

    Once your Form I-129 is approved, your employer receives an I-797 approval and you can then apply for an O1 visa.

    Learn more about filing Form I-129 petition for an O1 visa here.

    Learn more about the supporting documents needed to prove your eligibility for the O1 visa here.

  2. Apply for an O1 visa

    The second part of getting an O1 visa is filing your visa application which includes forms and supporting documents. 

    File form DS-160 for your O1 visa application
    – You can file DS-160 once your I-129 petition is approved and USCIS sends your employer a Notice of Action, Form I-797. 
    – Apply for an O1 visa at a US Consulate or Embassy outside the US.
    – If you’re applying for your O1 visa within Australia, register and create a profile with the US Department of State here.
    – Print the confirmation page once you have completed the form.

    Pay the O1 visa application fee
    Print the electronic payment confirmation as proof of payment.

    Upload the required documents
    These include as a minimum: completed Form DS-160, Form I-797 approval notice, visa application payment receipt, passport with at least six months validity, passport photo, evidence you intend to depart the US after your trip, e.g., a return plane ticket, proof of ties to your home country, employment contract, 

    Schedule and attend an interview at a US Consulate or Embassy
    – If you’re already in the US on a visa you generally won’t need an interview.
    – Schedule an interview at a US Consulate or Embassy outside the US here.
    – Bring all uploaded documents including Form I-797 approval notice, DS-160 confirmation page, appointment letter, and all payment receipts to your interview, as well as all documents submitted with your Form I-129 petition.
    – At your interview, a consular officer will assess your O1 visa application. Your fingerprints will be taken. You’ll be advised if further administrative processing is required.
    – Depending on your nationality there may be a visa issuance fee when your visa is approved.
    After you complete your interview, track the status of your O1 visa application on the US Consular Electronic Application Center (CEAC) site. 

    Learn more about how to apply for an O1 visa here.

O1 In-Person Interview Waivers Due to COVID-19 in 2022

From December 2021, consular officers were authorized to waive in-person interviews for O1 visa applicants due to COVID-19. The waiver is expected to remain until December 2022. In-person interviews may still be required on a case-by-case basis. Check the US Consulate or Embassy website for current information.

What Questions Will I Be Asked at My O1 Visa Interview?

The purpose of the O1 visa interview is for the Consular Officer to verify the information in your application and supporting documents is true and correct. 

You’ll be asked questions about your job, your professional background, your evidence to demonstrate your ability or achievements, and the content of your I-129 petition and O1 visa application.

Here are some commons questions you can expect during your O1 visa interview:

  • Tell us about your extraordinary ability or outstanding achievements in a specific field.
  • How and why do you qualify for an O1 visa?
  • Tell us about your major professional achievements in your field.
  • Tell us about the company you’ll be working for. Why do you want to work for them?
  • Tell us about the job you’ll be performing. What are your duties?
  • How will this role help you continue as an expert in your field?
  • What contributions do you think you will make as part of this role?
  • Tell us about your employment history.
  • Have you ever worked in the US before?
  • Have you ever held a US visa before?
  • Do you know the peers who wrote your letter of support for your petition? How do you know them?
  • Tell us about the examples of your extraordinary ability or outstanding achievements from your petition.
  • What will you do once your visa expires?

Follow these tips for your O1 visa interview:

  • Stay calm and relaxed. The Consular Officer is just doing their job. In most cases, if you’ve been accurate and honest in your application, everything will be fine, and the interview will be straightforward.
  • Smile and be friendly. Convey your enthusiasm for being able to practice as an expert in your field and for the contributions you intend to make.
  • Be able to succinctly explain your extraordinary ability or outstanding achievements.
  • Be able to summarize how and why you qualify for an O1 visa.
  • Be familiar with the contents, examples, and supporting documents from your O1 visa petition and application.
  • Answer the questions honestly. If you don’t understand the question or are unsure, say so! Share what you DO know.
  • Bring all relevant supporting documents with you, well organized, and refer to them during your interview.
  • Emphasize your plans to return home after your visa expires. Refer to supporting documents that clearly show your ties to your life, family, and friends back home.

For professional assistance, the following legal and immigration specialists are recommended:

Doug Lightman from Lightman Immigration 

Tara Gray from Tara Gray Law

Zjantelle from Cammisa Markel

More Information About the O1 Visa

Get the basics of O1 visa rules here.

Learn how to apply for an O1 visa here.

For comprehensive and well-organized information about O1 visas for Australians, check the US Visa Information Service for Australia

Tips For Getting an O1 Visa to Work in the US

In the interview I was asked What makes you of Extraordinary Ability? Was I living in the USA or Australia right now?

The most challenging part was booking an interview. I had to travel to Singapore from Australia to get an interview.

AGS

The process to get an O1 visa was very difficult.  I’m a bartender without any traditional qualifications such as a university degree. I had to get a lawyer which I had never done before with my other visas for other countries. In 2018, an executive order resulted in my visa being canceled and hence my passport. I couldn’t leave the country because if I did, my lawyer said he couldn’t get me back into the US.

My interview was bizarre, because it can be hard to understand that I’m a career bartender and that was my actual profession. It was difficult for the Officers to believe me. I had to bring printed out articles from newspapers stating I was the best in the world at what I do.

It’s been a dream of mine to come to the US since I was a little kid. If it wasn’t for the O1 visa I don’t think it would have happened.

William Pineapple

Aussies have the benefit of getting an E3 so I would go for that first because of the ease and availability.

Look at the visa requirements and start building your case for it, even if it takes a year or so. Say yes to everything – being invited on judging panels, speaking engagements etc. Raise your profile. By the time you apply for an O1 visa, you will have a more compelling case.

The O1A is very hard to get. The O1B is a little easier but limited to certain sectors/roles. I went for the O1A as a freelancer because it gives me the ability to work for multiple companies and I don’t need to tie it to a specific salary. But it requires a mountain of evidence and minimum criteria to fulfill. My WSJ application was 600+ pages!

For my 1st visa, my experience in setting up a media company in the Middle East was the primary source for application. I had some publicity and awards from that. The most challenging part was finalizing the reference letters. I had more than 15 and from mostly senior folks, but thankfully they were very supportive.

The lawyers I worked with made a huge difference so it helps to do your due diligence and find one that you click with.

WM

Frequently Asked Questions About O1 Visas

Here are some common questions about O1 visas:

Can I Extend My O1 Visa?

Yes! You can extend your O1 visa for 1 year at a time.

To extend your O1 visa, your employer must file a new Form I-129 petition. They also need to provide a statement explaining the reasons for the extension. 

To extend your spouse or dependent’s O3 visa, you must also file Form I-539.

When Can I Enter the US on an O1 Visa?

You can enter the US up to 10 days before the start date on your Form I-797.

How Long Can I Stay in the US Once My O1 Visa Expires?

You must exit the US by 10 days after the validity period of your petition ends.
Remember, the latest date you can stay in the US is the “admit until” date listed on your I-94

What Happens if O1 Visa Holders Overstay Their Visit?

Do not overstay your O1 visa under any circumstances.

You’re considered out of status if you fail to depart the US before your authorized date. Your visa is automatically voided, and you may be ineligible for a US visa in the future. If you’re an O1 visa holder and at risk of overstaying while in the US, get help from your DSO or an immigration attorney.

Can My Family Join Me on an O1 Visa?

Yes! Under the O1 visa rules, the spouse or children of O-1 and O-2 visa holders are eligible for an O3 visa. This allows them to enter and live in the US with you.

Can a Colleague or Support Person Join Me on an O1 Visa?

Possibly. The O2 visa allows individuals who are an integral part of an O1 visa holder’s event or performance to work in the US for the purpose stated in your O1 visa petition.

Do I Need to Disclose My Social Media Handles When Applying for an O1 Visa?

Yes! Form 160, the application form for a nonimmigrant visa, includes a question to collect all your social media identifiers/handles (though not your passwords) on the platforms specified. 

Could posting on social media jeopardize your O1 visa application? Possibly. An immigration attorney can give a definitive answer.

However, remember that the consular officer at your interview will evaluate ALL the information you’ve supplied to determine your eligibility for an O1 visa. So if any part of your application is at odds with the O1 visa requirements (including fraudulent answers and malicious intent), you may be denied. Or worse, you could face legal strife with US authorities.

So be smart about what you post online and be honest in your O1 visa application. If you have specific questions about living and working in the US, speak to an immigration specialist directly about your situation.

Can I Switch Employers on an O1 Visa?

Yes. To switch employers on an O1 visa your new employer must file a new Form I-129 petition.
Consult an immigration attorney for help with this. 

Can an O1 Visa Holder Convert to a Green Card?

The O1 visa is a nonimmigrant visa, meaning you don’t intend to stay in the US once you’ve completed your studies.

What if your situation changes while you’re in the US, such as marrying a US citizen? There’s a pathway to convert from an O1 visa to a green card. First, you must request a change in your nonimmigrant status to another category. Consult an immigration attorney for help with this. 

Do I Need Any Vaccinations to Be Eligible for the O1 Visa?

The US no longer requires vaccinations for temporary visa holders. However, your employer will likely have its own policy and rules around mandatory vaccinations.

If I Don’t Qualify for an O1 Visa What are My Options?

Several visas allow you to work in the US, including:

Speak to an immigration attorney about which visa you qualify for.

Thank You for Contributing to This Article

AGS – Designer

AGS is a 22 year-old, multidisciplinary designer from Australia. AGS works for themself and other businesses. AGS came to the US for more opportunities and a change of scenery. 

William Pineapple – Bartender

William is a 38 year-old, from Melbourne who left Australia in 2009, then lived in Dublin, Belfast and London before coming to New York City. William is a cocktail bartender with 20 years’ experience.

WM – Freelance Consultant

WM has 20 years’ marketing experience in the media and tech industries, and was product manager at Sensis before moving to the Middle East to set up a media company. WM moved to NYC for graduate school then worked at WSJ as Marketing Director for nearly 6 years.