O-1A Visa, How to Apply

O-1A Visa

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What is an O-1A visa?

The O-1A visa is a non-immigrant visa category for individuals with extraordinary ability or achievement in the sciences, education, business, or athletics. 

This visa is specifically designed for those who have a high level of expertise and recognition in their field. 

The O-1A visa is part of the broader O visa category, which also includes the O-1B visa for individuals with extraordinary ability in the arts or extraordinary achievement in the motion picture or television industry.

To qualify for an O-1A visa, the applicant must demonstrate a high level of achievement or expertise by providing evidence of sustained national or international acclaim. 

This can include awards, recognition from peers, a record of significant contributions to their field, and other supporting documentation.

It’s important to note that the O-1A visa is employer-specific, meaning it is tied to a specific job with a specific U.S. employer who acts as the petitioner in the visa application. 

The visa allows individuals to work and stay in the U.S. temporarily, and it is generally granted for an initial period of up to three years, with extensions possible.

O-1A visa requirements

To qualify for an O-1A visa, an applicant must meet the following requirements:

  • Extraordinary Ability: The applicant must demonstrate a high level of expertise, acclaim, and recognition in their field. This is typically shown through a sustained record of achievements, such as major awards, a significant body of work, or other evidence of exceptional accomplishments.
  • National or International Recognition: The individual must provide evidence of sustained national or international acclaim, which may include awards, memberships in prestigious professional organizations, publications, or other forms of recognition.
  • Specific Field: The applicant must be seeking employment in the U.S. in a specific field, such as science, education, business, or athletics.
  • Job Offer: The applicant must have a job offer from a U.S. employer in their field of expertise. The employer serves as the petitioner and is responsible for submitting the visa application on behalf of the individual.
  • Advisory Opinion: A written advisory opinion from a peer group, labor organization, or management organization in the applicant’s field can be submitted. This opinion supports the claim of extraordinary ability and can become an important part of the visa application.
  • Contract or Itinerary: The applicant must provide a copy of a written contract or a summary of the terms of employment, including an itinerary for the events or activities during the stay in the U.S.
  • Ongoing Work in the Field: The individual must demonstrate that they will continue to work in their field of extraordinary ability while in the U.S.

Is an O-1A visa the same as H-1B?

No, the O-1A visa and H-1B visa are distinct non-immigrant visa categories, each serving different purposes and having different eligibility criteria.

  • O-1A Visa:
      • Purpose: The O-1A visa is designed for individuals with extraordinary ability or achievement in the sciences, education, business, or athletics. It is meant for those who have reached the very top of their field and have demonstrated sustained national or international acclaim.
      • Eligibility: The applicant must provide evidence of their extraordinary ability, such as major awards, a significant body of work, or other exceptional accomplishments. The visa is employer-specific, tied to a particular job with a specific U.S. employer.
      • Duration: Initially granted for up to three years, with the possibility of extensions in one-year increments. 
  • H-1B Visa:
    • Purpose: The H-1B visa is for foreign workers in specialty occupations, typically requiring a bachelor’s degree or higher in a specific field. It is commonly used for professionals in fields such as IT, engineering, science, and business.
    • Eligibility: The applicant must have a job offer from a U.S. employer, and the position must require specialized knowledge and a relevant bachelor’s degree or higher. The employer must file a petition on behalf of the employee.
    • Lottery: The U.S. government imposes an annual cap on the number of new H-1B visas that can be issued. As the demand for H-1B visas often exceeds this cap, a lottery system is used to randomly select a predetermined number of petitions for processing. The lottery is typically conducted once a year (in February-March). The H-1B annual cap is set at 65,000 for regular H-1B visas and an additional 20,000 for individuals with advanced degrees from U.S. institutions.
    • Duration: Initially granted for three years, with the possibility of extension for up to a total of six years. Extensions beyond the six-year limit are possible for certain individuals in the process of obtaining employment-based green cards (for example, EB-2 petitions).

Advantages of O-1A visa (compared to H-1B visa):

  • No prevailing wage requirements
  • No overall time limit (H-1B typically is limited by 6 years of status duration)
  • No annual numerical cap

How long is the O-1A visa valid for?

The O-1A visa is initially granted for a period of up to three years

However, the duration can vary based on the specific terms of the employment or the length of time needed to complete the particular project or event for which the visa is granted. 

It’s important to note that the O-1A visa is employer-specific, meaning it is tied to a particular job with a specific U.S. employer who serves as the petitioner in the visa application.

If the individual’s employment continues beyond the initial period, the O-1A visa can be extended in one-year increments

There is no specific limit on the number of extensions, as long as the individual continues to meet the eligibility criteria and can demonstrate that their work in the U.S. requires additional time.

It’s worth mentioning that the O-1A visa holder is expected to be employed in the field of expertise specified in the visa petition. 

Changing employers or job roles may require filing a new O-1A visa petition. 

How hard is it to get an O-1A visa?

Obtaining an O-1A visa can be challenging. 

The difficulty of obtaining an O-1A visa depends on various factors, including the strength of the applicant’s credentials, the quality of the supporting evidence, and the complexity of the case.

Here are some factors that influence the difficulty of obtaining an O visa:

  • Level of Achievement: The applicant needs to demonstrate extraordinary ability or achievement in their field. The higher the level of accomplishment and recognition, the stronger the case.
  • Quality of Documentation: The success of the O-1A visa application hinges on the quality of supporting documentation. This includes awards, publications, memberships in professional organizations, and other forms of recognition.
  • Advisory Opinion: Obtaining an advisory opinion from a peer group, labor organization, or management organization in the applicant’s field is a required element. A supportive opinion adds credibility to the application.
  • Job Offer: Having a job offer from a U.S. employer in the field of expertise is a fundamental requirement. The terms of employment and the supporting contract or itinerary are critical components.
  • Legal Assistance: Many individuals find it beneficial to seek the assistance of experienced immigration attorneys who specialize in O-1A visa cases. Legal expertise can help ensure that the application is prepared correctly and that all necessary documentation is included.

O-1A visa filing fee

The O-1A visa filing fees include:

  • Form I-129 filing fee: $460
  • Premium Processing Fee (optional): $2,805
  • O-1A visa filing fee (if applicant is outside the U.S. and needs to apply for a visa): $205

Government fees are subject to change, check the latest O-1A visa filing fees:

O-1A visa checklist of required documents

The following documents must be submitted with your O-1A visa application (provide photocopies only):

Required evidence Examples of acceptable documents
Applicant’s previous immigration documents (if applicable)
  • Form I-94, Arrival/Departure Record
  • Complete copy of passport (including any previously issued U.S. visas and CBP stamps)
  • USCIS I-797 approval notice(s) for previous nonimmigrant petitions, change/extension of status
  • Previously issued Employment Authorization Document (EAD), front and back – if applicable
U.S. employer documentation
  • Employment contract and itinerary 
  • Letter of employment 
  • Most recent pay stubs (if applicable) for the previous 3-6 months
  • Detailed information about the U.S. employer, its products, or services
  • Annual report(s)
  • Articles about the employer or company’s products or services
Evidence of applicant’s extraordinary ability in science, education, business and athletics
  • Resume or CV
  • All educational credentials (diplomas, transcripts, professional license, etc.)
  • 5-10 recommendation letters from experts in the field (include each expert’s CV)
  • Receipt of a major, internationally recognized award in the applicant’s field (such as Nobel Prize)
  • Written advisory opinion from a U.S. peer group in the area of the applicant’s ability (if applicable); 

OR

At least three of the following:

  • Receipt of nationally or internationally recognized prizes or awards for excellence in the applicant’s field, for example:
    • Awards from well-known national institutions and well-known professional associations
    • Certain doctoral dissertation awards and Ph.D. scholarships
    • Certain awards recognizing presentations at nationally or internationally recognized conferences.
    • For each award or prize provide the following documentation:
      • Criteria used to grant the award, as well as evidence of the significance of the award;
      • The reputation of the organization granting the award and information on the judges/judging process;
      • Previous winners of the award who held international acclaim at the time of receiving the award;
  • Membership in associations in the applicant’s field, which require outstanding achievements of their members, as judged by recognized national or international experts in their disciplines or fields. The following documentation must be submitted:
    • Membership requirements and criteria used to accept a new member;
    • Total amount of members and applicant’s ranking in the organization (if applicable);
    • Status of the organization within the national and international community;
    • Background of experts who determine whether a person can be accepted as a member
  • Evidence of published material about the applicant and his/her work in professional journals, trade publications, or major media. The following documentation must be submitted:
    • Articles and photographs of the applicant in major publications (newspapers, journals, TV, online media outlets)
    • Articles and photographs of the applicant’s work in major publications (newspapers, journals, TV, online media outlets)
    • Each material should include the title, date, author, URL links (if available online)
    • Information about the newspaper, journal, TV, online media outlet that published material about the applicant or applicant’s work (circulation or distribution figures, journal’s standards of publication, size, audience demographics, etc.)
  • Evidence of participation, either in a group or alone, as a judge of others in the same or a similar field. The following documentation must be submitted:
    • Criteria used to select judges
    • How the applicant received an invitation to become a judge
    • Information about the competition event
    • Reference letters
  • Evidence of original scientific, scholarly, or business-related contributions of major significance in the field of endeavor:
    • Reference letters from experts and colleagues explaining why the achievement(s) are significant
    • Copies of patents or patent applications
    • Evidence of the applicant’s contributions to the field
    • Public commentary discussing the applicant’s work
    • Number of website visitors, application/product downloads/purchases
    • Evidence that the applicant’s work was implemented by other companies
    • Copies of the articles citing applicant’s work
    • Review articles
    • Google Scholar list of citations
    • Claritive Analytics Web of Science citations
  • Evidence of authorship of scholarly articles in the field, published in professional journals or major media:
    • Copies of the articles
    • Information about the publication and its significance (including impact factor). 
    • Journal’s or media’s circulation, frequency of publication
    • Number of citations
    • Number of time the article has been accessed
  • Evidence that the applicant has been employed in a critical or essential capacity for organizations and establishments that have a distinguished reputation:
    • Reference letters or endorsements from current or former employers discussing in detail the applicant’s role and accomplishments, importance of accomplishments, and how the accomplishments can be attributed to the applicant
    • Information about the organizations
    • Evidence demonstrating reputation of the organizations
  • Evidence that the applicant has commanded or now commands a high salary or other substantial remuneration for services in relation to others in the field:
    • Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics salary information to demonstrate standard salaries in the applicant’s field
    • Compensation surveys
    • Expert letters discussing the standard salaries in the applicant’s field
    • Employment contracts
    • Paystubs
    • W-2 forms
    • Evidence of the applicant’s shares and the value of the shares
    • Profits from the sale of a business the applicant started
    • Evidence of other remuneration
    • Letters from employers, or other reliable evidence);
  • Other comparable evidence: Any other documents demonstrating that applicant’s work is extraordinary
Proof of relationship (if applicable) Only if sponsoring spouse and unmarried children for derivative O-3 visas:

  • Marriage certificate
  • Birth certificate of children
English translation
  • All documents in a foreign language must be accompanied by certified English translation

How to apply for an O-1A visa

The process of applying for an O-1A visa involves the following steps:

Step 1. Download the Form I-129:

  • Obtain the latest edition of Form I-129, Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker, from the USCIS website.
  • USCIS will reject any outdated editions of Form I-129

Step 2. Gather Supporting Documents:

  • Collect all the necessary supporting documents (see the checklist above). 
  • Unless directed otherwise, submit only photocopies of the documents

Step 3. Complete the Form:

  • Fill out the form accurately and completely. Sign and date the form in ink.
  • Complete the “O and P Classifications Supplement to Form I-129”
  • USCIS does not accept computer-generated or stamped signatures
  • Fill out and submit Form G-1145 to receive an electronic notification containing USCIS receipt number by text message or email

Step 4. Filing fee payment:

  • Check the USCIS website for the most current filing fee
  • If you choose to pay an optional Premium Processing Fee to expedite the review of Form I-129, check the most current Form I-907 filing fee
  • Acceptable forms of payment include: money order, personal check, cashier’s check or credit card payment (fill out Form G-1450)
  • If paying by check, the check must be payable to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security

Step 5. Mail the Application:

  • Once the form is completed and the supporting documents are gathered, filing fee payment is submitted, mail the entire packet to the correct filing address (“Where to File” section).
  • It’s recommended to mail the application via express mail with a tracking number
  • Make a copy of the completed application for your records

Step 6. Check Application Status:

  • USCIS will mail the receipt notice 2-3 weeks after the submission date
  • You can track the status of your application online by entering the receipt number 

Step 7. Wait for Processing:

  • USCIS will process your application, and if additional information or document is needed, an RFE notice will be mailed to you. Once processed, you will receive a decision on your application by mail.

Step 8. Consular Processing (if applicant is abroad):

  • If the applicant is located abroad, Form DS-160 must be filed with the U.S. Department of State. Applicant will attend an interview at the U.S. Embassy or Consulate, OR
  • If the applicant is already in the US in a different nonimmigrant status, Form I-129 also serves as request for change of status

O-1A visa processing time

It can take anywhere from 1.5 months to 6 months to obtain an O-1A visa:

  • Form I-129 processing time – 1.5 months
  • If applicant is abroad and applying for a visa – 10 days to 4.5 months

To check the most current processing times for O-1A visa:

  • Visit the USCIS website at https://egov.uscis.gov/processing-times
  • Select “Form I-129” 
  • Select “O – Extraordinary Ability”
  • Select your service center (the service center processing your application is printed in the lower left corner of Form I-129 receipt notice)
  • If applicant is abroad, check the visa appointment wait time (enter the location of the US Embassy/Consulate in your home country)

Keep in mind that processing times are general estimates, and individual cases may take less or more time to complete.

Additionally, USCIS may issue Requests for Evidence (RFEs) during the processing of your application, which can add to the overall processing time. 

It’s crucial to respond promptly and thoroughly if you receive an RFE to avoid delays.

If your case is outside the normal processing time, you place an Outside Normal Processing Time e-Request or request assistance from your local congressman’s office.

Family members of O-1A visa holders

The spouse and unmarried children under 21 years of age of an O-1A visa holder may be eligible for O-3 visas. 

O-3 visa holders are allowed to accompany the primary O-1A visa holder to the U.S. and stay for the same duration as the O-1A visa.

O-3 visa holders are not authorized to work in the U.S.

How to extend an O-1A visa?

Extending an O-1A visa involves the following steps:

Step 1. File a Petition for Extension:

Step 2. Submit Supporting Documents:

  • Include the explanation why the extension is needed and the applicant’s most recent Form I-94.

Step 3. Adjudication Process:

  • The USCIS will review the petition and supporting documents. If additional information is required, they may issue a Request for Evidence (RFE). It is essential to respond to any RFE within the specified timeframe.
  • Premium Processing (Optional):
    • If a faster processing time is desired, the petitioner may choose to use premium processing by filing Form I-907 and paying an additional fee. This can expedite the adjudication process to 15 calendar days.

Step 4. Biometrics Appointment (if applicable):

  • In some cases, the USCIS may require the O-1A visa holder to appear for biometrics collection. This is typically done at a USCIS Application Support Center.
  • Sometimes USCIS can reuse the applicant’s previously collected biometrics information

Step 5. Wait for Approval:

  • Once the USCIS approves the extension petition, they will issue a new Form I-797, Notice of Action, with an updated approval period. This document serves as confirmation of the extended O-1A status.

Is O-1A a dual intent visa?

Yes, O-1A is a dual intent visa.

A “dual intent” visa is a type of visa that allows the visa holder to have both nonimmigrant intent and immigrant intent simultaneously. 

Nonimmigrant intent refers to the temporary nature of the stay, indicating that the visa holder plans to return to their home country when the authorized stay expires. 

Immigrant intent, on the other hand, suggests the intention to apply for permanent residency (a green card) and potentially stay in the U.S. permanently.

Dual intent is a concept that provides flexibility to individuals in certain nonimmigrant visa categories by allowing them to pursue permanent residency without jeopardizing their current nonimmigrant status. 

This is particularly important for individuals who may initially come to the country for temporary purposes (such as work or study) but later decide to seek permanent residency.

O-1A visa holders and their family members are allowed to apply for permanent residency without jeopardizing their current O-1A status or extension of O-1A status.

However, O-1A visa holders who have applied for permanent residency by filing Form I-485, must have a valid Advance Parole document to return to the US after a trip abroad.

How to apply for a green card as an O-1A visa holder?

Applying for a green card (permanent residency) as an O-1A visa holder involves the following steps:

Step 1. Determine Eligibility:

  • Assess your eligibility for a green card through employment-based categories
  • The employment-based preference categories are usually divided into EB-1, EB-2 (including EB-2 National Interest Waiver) and EB-3
  • O-1A visa holders with extraordinary ability often qualify for the EB-1 category

Step 2. File Immigrant Petition:

  • The first step is for your employer (or you, if you are self-petitioning) to file an immigrant petition with USCIS
  • For EB-1 category, file Form I-140, Immigrant Petition for Alien Worker. The petition should include evidence of your extraordinary ability.

Step 3. Priority Date:

  • Once Form I-140 is registered by USCIS, a priority date is established 
  • The priority date is crucial, especially if there is a quota backlog in the employment-based preference category
  • Visa Bulletin:

Step 4. Adjustment of Status or Consular Processing:

  • If a visa number is available, you can proceed with either adjusting your status to permanent residency within the U.S. (if you are in the U.S.) or going through consular processing if you are outside the U.S.
  • Medical Examination – you must complete a medical examination (Form I-693) in the U.S. and submit it with your Form I-485 application
  • Consular Processing applicants will complete a medical examination in their home country prior to attending the interview at the U.S. Embassy/Consulate

Step 5. Biometrics Appointment:

  • If you are adjusting status within the U.S., you will attend a biometrics appointment 

Step 6. Employment Authorization (Optional):

  • If you filed Form I-765 with your Form I-485 application, USCIS will issue an Employment Authorization Document (EAD)
  • Form I-765 can be filed either at the same time as Form I-485 is submitted or after Form I-485 is registered
  • There is no additional fee to apply for EAD 

Step 7. Interview (if applicable):

  • USCIS may schedule an interview as part of the adjustment of status process
  • Consular processing applicants will have an interview at the U.S. consulate

Step 8. Receive Green Card:

  • If your Form I-485 application is approved, you will receive a green card by mail
  • Male immigrants age 18 to 26 must register with the Selective Service System

Step 9. Apply for U.S. Citizenship:

  • You can apply for US citizenship 4 years and 9 months after you become a permanent resident. File Form N-400 with USCIS

Related Links:

O-1 Visa: Individuals with Extraordinary Ability or Achievement

O-1B Visa, How to Apply

Form I-129, Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker

EB-1A (Alien of Extraordinary Ability) – Eligibility, How to Apply & Costs