The O Visa for Extraordinary Individuals

O-1 Visa: Individuals with Extraordinary Ability or Achievement

The O-1 nonimmigrant visa is especially tailored for the individual who possesses extraordinary abilities in the fields including science, art, education, business, or athletics.

Additionally, the O-1 visa is also available for those who have demonstrated a record of extraordinary achievement and distinction in the motion picture or television industry.  If you have been recognized nationally or internationally for those achievements, you may be eligible as well.

The O nonimmigrant classification is commonly referred to as:


  • O-1A: individuals with an extraordinary ability in the sciences, education, business, or athletics (not including the arts, motion pictures or television industry)


  • O-1B: individuals with an extraordinary ability in the arts or extraordinary achievement in motion picture or television industry


  • O-2: individuals who will accompany an O-1, artist or athlete, to assist in a specific event or performance.  For an O-1A, the O-2’s assistance must be an “integral part” of the O-1A’s activity. For an O-1B, the O-2’s assistance must be “essential” to the completion of the O-1B’s production. 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


  • O-3: individuals who are the spouse or children of O-1’s and O-2’s


Do I have the required skills to obtain an O visa from USCIS?

There are a few things that are required for a person to qualify for an O-1 visa.   You must demonstrate extraordinary ability by sustained national or international acclaim.  You should have such a high level of expertise such that you are one of a small percentage at the top of your field.  Also, you must be coming to the United States temporarily to continue working in the area of your extraordinary ability.  Your employment or exercise of ability should be for an American employer or an agent of an international employer.

A high level of achievement, degree of skill, and recognition substantially above that ordinarily encountered is required to prove that you have an extraordinary ability in the field of arts and entertainment.  An artist or entertainer should be renowned, leading, or well-known in the field of arts.

If you have any questions or concerns as to whether you might qualify for an O visa, or need help bringing an employee with extraordinary ability to the U.S., please call or email JCS Immigration and Visa Services.  Our experienced Los Angeles immigration attorneys can help you today!   [LINK TO CONTACT JCS]

What other USCIS requirements determine my eligibility for an O visa?

An O visa is provided to people with extraordinary abilities who are only performing temporarily for a job or event.  U.S. based employers or U.S. agents for international organizations may petition for the beneficiary to obtain an O visa for a work related event or group of activities that necessitate travel into the U.S. for a temporary visit.  Events that qualify can be classed as “an activity such as, but not limited to, a scientific project, conference, convention, lecture, series, tour, exhibit, business project, academic year, or engagement.”  For activities that may not fit into a known or limited capacity, an O visa may still be permitted if the activity remains in the field of extraordinary expertise.

You must be entering the United States to participate in a specific event or events which require your expertise. The petition may not be filed more than one year before the services are needed.

How do I apply for an O-1 visa?

A Petition for Nonimmigrant Worker should be filed by your employer with USCIS.  Please note that your petition may not be filed more than one year before the actual need for your services. However,the application should be filed at least 45 days before the date of employment to avoid delays .

The petitioner must also provide the following documentary evidence:

  • Consultation from a peer group, labor organization or designated expert in the field of ability
  • Contract between petitioner employer and beneficiary
  • Itinerary indicating days and activities
  • Other supporting evidence substantiating extraordinary ability


For more information on the eligibility criteria for an O visa, please read more in our section on O visa application requirements.  [LINK TO O VISA REQS]

How long can I stay in the U.S. on my O visa?


O visa holders may stay in the U.S. initially for  up to three years.  The time necessary to accomplish the initial event or activity in increments of up to one year will be assessed and determined by USCIS.   As an O visa nonimmigrant, you may be admitted to the United States for the validity period of the petition, plus a period of up to 10 days before the validity period begins and 10 days after the validity period ends.  The beneficiary may only engage in authorized employment during the validity period of the petition.

Can I extend my stay in the U.S. on my nonimmigrant O visa?

The petitioner must request an extension of stay to continue or complete the same event or activity by filing the following documentation with USCIS:

  • Petition for Nonimmigrant Worker
  • A copy of the beneficiary’s Form I-94, Arrival/ Departure Record
  • A statement from the petitioner explaining the reasons for the extension

Your statement should describe the event or activity that was the basis for the original approval and also explain that the extension is needed in order for you to continue or complete the same event or activity as described.  This is required to assist USCIS in adjudication of your request for extension.

If your family is in the United States with you while you are here, your spouse and children must also file an Application to Extend/Change Nonimmigrant Status.  Make sure that they submit any supporting documents to extend their stay.

Can I bring my family with me to the United States if I hold a valid O-1 and O-2 visa?

You may bring your immediate family to stay with you.  A spouse and/or child(ren) under the age of 21 may accompanying or follow to join you if you hold an  O-1 or O-2 visa.  O-3 nonimmigrant visa holders are still subject to the same period of admission and limitations as the O-1 or O-2 visa holder.  The family members accompanying the principal visa holder  may not work in the United States under this classification, but they may engage in full or part time study on an O-3 visa.


What if I decide to immigrate to the U.S. while here on my O visa?

Although O-1 visas require a high level of expertise and evidence to prove extraordinary ability, and thus are among some of the most difficult temporary work visas to obtain, the O visa is still very desirable.   After spending time in the U.S., permanent immigration may become the ultimate goal of many people who have entered the U.S. on a temporary visa.  The O visa is a “dual intent” visa, which means that even if you obtained the visa with the intent of leaving to your home country after your activities in the U.S. completed, you can also have the intent to immigrate without invalidating your visa.

This means that filing a labor certification application or immigrant petition will not jeopardize your O-1 status or ability to obtain or renew an O-1 visa.  Additionally, a noncitizen under O-1 status does not have to maintain a foreign residence which he or she has no intention of abandoning.  Many O-1 visa holders may be eligible to apply for a Green Card under the USCIS first preference Extraordinary Ability category.  If granted, this would confer lawful permanent resident status on the green card holder.  Lawful permanent residency offers individuals a multitude of benefits, including the freedom to live and work permanently in the U.S, visit this article for further information. Potential immigrants should be as informed about the laws as possible and our experienced immigration lawyers can help you determine what the best path is for you on your immigration journey.  Please call or email for a free initial consultation today!  [LINK TO CONTACT JCS]

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