The O Visa
Foreign nationals of extraordinary ability in the sciences, arts, education, business, or athletics can obtain an O visa to continue their work in the United States. In 2015, over 93,000 people were admitted to the United States in O-1 status! That includes scientists, researchers, entrepreneurs, actors, musicians, lecturers, directors, set designers, choreographers, coaches, animal trainers, and chefs. One of the more famous, and controversial, O visa holders is Canadian citizen Justin Bieber.
Extraordinary ability in science, education, business, or athletics is defined as "a level of expertise indicating that the person is one of the small percentage who have arisen to the very top of the field of endeavor." Extraordinary ability in the arts is defined as "a high level of achievement in the field of arts evidenced by a degree of skill and recognition substantially above that ordinarily encountered." Think of winners of significant international or national awards: the Nobel Prize, an Academy Award, Emmy, Grammy, etc.
How to Apply
The foreign national cannot apply for him/herself. An employer or agent files a Petition (Form I-129) with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. The Petition cannot be filed more than one year before the work begins. USCIS recommends filing the Petition at least 45 days prior to the start date.
The Petition must be filed with supporting documentary evidence, including a written advisory opinion from a peer group (called a consultation), a copy of the contract between the employer and the foreign national, an explanation of the need for the foreign national to be in the United States, and evidence of the foreign national's extraordinary ability.
Period of Stay
An O visa can be issued for up to three years. The foreign national can be admitted ten days before the validity period, and can remain in the United States for ten days after the validity period (if that grace period is noted on the Form I-94 when the foreign national is admitted).
Unlike many other non-immigrant visa categories, the O visa allows for dual intent. That means that even though it is a non-immigrant visa and does not include the right to live and work in the United States permanently, an O visa holder can have the intent to remain in the United States permanently. There is no requirement that an O visa holder maintain a foreign residence. Under the regulations, even a pending family-based immigrant visa application, or an approved labor certification application cannot be a basis for denial of an O visa application.
If you think you might be the next Justin Bieber, or gaming entrepreneur Arad Malhotra, call our office today at 716-832-2222 for a free case evaluation to explore whether you meet the criteria for an O visa.