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Immigration for the Extraordinary: The O Visa

Updated: Jun 9, 2021

Do you have a favorite solo performer who was born outside the U.S.? If you ever saw them in concert at the Miami Arena or a similar venue, they probably hold an O-1 visa.

The O category of nonimmigrant visas is intended for individuals who are recognized for having an unusual ability in the arts, athletics, business, education, or sciences or have a record of nationally or internationally recognized achievement in the television and motion picture industries. There is an additional subcategory for their support staff and personnel.

O-1A Category

The O-1A visa is for those with extraordinary ability in the arts, athletics, business, education, or sciences. In this instance, “extraordinary” refers to a level of expertise that places a person at the very top of their area of expertise in addition to a high level of achievement demonstrated by above-average skill and recognition.

Applicants with a high degree of skill and recognition in athletics, business, education, or sciences must have received an internationally-recognized award such as the Nobel Prize OR at least three of the following accomplishments:

  • Receipt of awards that are nationally or internationally recognized

  • Membership in an organization that only admits applicants with outstanding achievement

  • Coverage in major trade or professional publications

  • A recognized judge of work in their field

  • Authoring an original scholarly or scientific work of high significance in their field

  • Evidence that they have written and published a scholarly piece

  • Holding an essential or critical position at an organization with an outstanding reputation

  • Commands or will command an above-average salary in their field

Those with a history of extraordinary achievements in the arts must have received or been nominated for a distinguished prize or award, such as a Grammy or Academy Award OR be able to present evidence of at least three of the following:

  • Playing a lead role in a production with a distinguished reputation

  • Receive critical reviews in trade journals or major newspapers

  • Leading an organization with a positive reputation

  • Critically acclaimed or major commercial successes

  • Recognition from recognized authorities in the field, such as government agencies and critics

  • Commands or will command an above-average salary in their field

To qualify for an O-1A visa, the applicant must intend to enter the U.S. to continue working in an area of high ability or achievement.

O-1B Category

The O-1B visa is intended for applicants who have demonstrated extraordinary achievement in the television or motion picture industry. The criteria for acceptance is similar for those applicants seeking an O-1A visa for artistic ability.

O-2 Category

This category is for those accompanying and assisting O-1 visa holders during their time in the United States. They must play an integral role in supporting their employer’s performance, such as a manager or personal assistant.

O-3 Category

Spouses and minor children (under 21) of an O-visa holder may apply for the O-3 nonimmigrant visa. While they may not work in the U.S., they can engage in full or part-time study.

The initial period of stay for an O-visa holder is up to three years, but it largely depends on the length of the qualifying event, such as tour, lecture series, competition, or scientific project. Extensions are granted in one-year increments for this event. Overall, there are no time limits for O-visas.

If you are a U.S. organization wishing to bring a foreign-born artist, athlete, or educator here on an O-visa, contact the Florida immigration attorneys at Jarbath Pena Law Group. We will help you review their eligibility, apply for the visa, and handle the legalities surrounding their work in the United States, so you can focus on putting together a successful event.

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