O-1B Visa, How to Apply

O-1B Visa

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What is an O-1B visa?

The O-1B visa is a U.S. nonimmigrant visa classification that is specifically designed for individuals with extraordinary ability or achievement in the motion picture, television industry or video streaming.

This visa allows individuals with exceptional talent in fields such as acting, film, television, music to come to the U.S. temporarily to work in their respective fields.

To qualify for an O-1B visa, applicants must demonstrate a high level of achievement and recognition in their field, typically through a sustained record of accomplishment. 

This could include evidence of significant roles or performances, critical acclaim, awards, and other achievements that indicate a person’s exceptional abilities.

The O-1B visa is employer-specific, meaning that it is tied to a specific employer who sponsors the individual. 

The sponsoring employer must file a petition with USCIS on behalf of the applicant.

It’s important to note that the O-1B visa is part of the broader O visa category, which also includes the O-1A visa for individuals with extraordinary ability in sciences, education, business, or athletics.

O-1B visa requirements

To qualify for an O-1B visa, individuals must meet the following criteria:

  • Extraordinary Ability: The applicant must possess “a very high level of accomplishment in the motion picture or television industry evidenced by a degree of skill and recognition significantly above that ordinarily encountered” in their field of motion picture, television production and/or video streaming. The applicant must be recognized as outstanding, notable, or leading in the motion picture or television field
  • Documentation of Extraordinary Ability: The applicant must provide substantial evidence of their extraordinary ability, which may include:
    • Evidence of significant roles or performances
    • Critical reviews or other forms of recognition.
    • Awards or nominations.
    • Record of commercial success.
    • Testimonials from experts or peers in the field.
  • Sponsorship: The O-1B visa is employer-specific, so a U.S. employer or agent must file a petition on behalf of the artist or performer. The petitioner must submit Form I-129, Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker, with USCIS
  • Itinerary of Activities: The petition must include an itinerary of the activities or events in which the individual will be involved during their stay in the U.S. This helps establish the temporary nature of the O-1B visa.
  • Contract or Agreement: A copy of any written contracts or agreements between the employer and the artist or performer, outlining the terms of employment, should be included in the petition.
  • Labor Consultation: A written advisory opinion from a relevant labor union or peer group is required. This serves as an additional recommendation for the O-1B visa classification.

Difference between O-1A and O-1B visas

The O-1A and O-1B visas are both categories within the O visa classification in the U.S., but they are designed for individuals with extraordinary ability in different fields. 

Here are the key differences between the O-1A and O-1B visas:

  • O-1A Visa: Extraordinary Ability in Sciences, Education, Business, or Athletics
      • Eligible Fields: The O-1A visa is for individuals with extraordinary ability in sciences, education, business, or athletics. 
      • Examples of Eligible Applicants: Accomplished scientists, business leaders, educators, and exceptional athletes may qualify for the O-1A visa.
  • O-1B Visa: Extraordinary Ability in the Arts (Motion Picture or Television Industry)
    • Eligible Fields: The O-1B visa is specifically for individuals with extraordinary ability or achievements in the motion picture, television production and video streaming
    • Examples of Eligible Applicants: Accomplished actors, musicians, filmmakers, and other artists may qualify for the O-1B visa.

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

No, the O-1B visa and the H-1B visa are distinct nonimmigrant visa categories in the U.S., and they serve different purposes with different eligibility criteria. 

Here are some key differences between the O-1B and H-1B visas:

  • O-1B Visa:
      • Purpose: The O-1B visa is designed for individuals with extraordinary ability or achievements in the motion picture, television production and video streaming. It is meant for those who have reached the very top of their field and are recognized as outstanding, notable, or leading in their fields
      • Eligibility: The applicant must provide evidence of their extraordinary ability, such as participation in events or productions that have a distinguished reputation, national or international recognition, major commercial success, etc.. 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-1B 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-1B visa valid for?

The O-1B 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-1B 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-1B 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-1B 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-1B visa petition. 

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

Obtaining an O-1B visa can be challenging, as it is designed for individuals with extraordinary ability or achievement in the motion picture, television production and video streaming, and the eligibility criteria are high

The process requires a thorough demonstration of the applicant’s exceptional talent and recognition in their field. 

Here are some factors that contribute to the level of difficulty in obtaining an O-1B visa:

  • High Standard of Extraordinary Ability:
    • Applicants must provide substantial evidence of extraordinary ability in the field, which may include significant roles or performances, critical acclaim, awards, and other indicators of exceptional talent. 
  • Documentation Requirements:
    • The petition for an O-1B visa involves gathering and presenting extensive documentation to prove the applicant’s extraordinary ability. This may include letters of recommendation, critical reviews, evidence of awards or nominations, and other forms of recognition.
  • Expert Consultation:
    • The petition must include an advisory opinion from a relevant labor union or peer group confirming the applicant’s extraordinary ability. This adds an additional layer of scrutiny and evaluation by industry professionals.
  • Employer Involvement:
    • The O-1B visa is employer-specific, meaning that a U.S. employer or agent must sponsor the individual. The employer plays a crucial role in the application process by filing the petition on behalf of the artist or performer.
  • Competition and Selectivity:
    • The O-1B visa category is highly competitive, especially in the arts and entertainment industry. The U.S. government evaluates the applicant’s achievements and recognition in comparison to others in their field.
  • Legal Assistance:
    • Many applicants seek the assistance of immigration attorneys or professionals to navigate the complex application process, ensure all required documentation is in order, and present a strong case for extraordinary ability.

O-1B visa filing fees

The O-1B visa filing fees include:

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

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

O-1B visa checklist of required documents

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

Evidence required

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
  • Annual report(s)
  • Articles about the U.S. employer 
Evidence of applicant’s extraordinary ability in the motion picture, television production or video streaming
  • Receipt of a significant international or national award such as Academy Award, Emmy, Grammy, or Director’s Guild Award

OR

At least three of the following:

  • Evidence that the applicant has performed, and will perform, services as a lead or starring participant in productions or events that have a distinguished reputation (critical reviews, advertisements, publicity releases, publications contracts, or endorsements)
  • Evidence that the applicant has achieved national or international recognition for achievements (critical reviews or other published materials by or about the applicant in major newspapers, trade journals, magazines, or other publications)
  • Evidence that the applicant has performed, and will perform, in a lead, starring, or critical role for organizations and establishments that have a distinguished reputation evidenced (articles in newspapers, trade journals, publications, or testimonials)
  • Evidence that the applicant has a record of major commercial or critically acclaimed successes (title, rating, standing in the field, box office receipts, motion picture or television ratings, and other achievements reported in trade journals, major newspapers, or other publications)
  • Evidence that the applicant has received significant recognition for achievements from organizations, critics, government agencies, or other recognized experts in the field. Include the expert’s authority, expertise, and knowledge of the applicant achievements
  • Evidence that the applicant has either commanded a high salary or will command a high salary or other substantial remuneration for services in relation to others in the field (contracts and other reliable evidence)

How to apply for an O-1B visa

The process of applying for an O-1B 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-1B visa processing time

It can take anywhere from 1.5 months to 6 months to obtain an O-1B 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 an O-1B 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-1B visa holders

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

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

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

How to extend an O-1B visa?

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

Step 1. File a Petition for Extension:

  • The sponsoring employer or agent must file a Form I-129, Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker, with USCIS

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-1B 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-1B status.

Is O-1B a dual intent visa?

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

However, O-1B 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-1B visa holder?

Applying for a green card (permanent residency) as an O-1B 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-1B 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-1A Visa, How to Apply 

Form I-129, Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker

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