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O Visas

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The O-1 temporary worker visa, a nonimmigrant visa, is utilized by individuals of extraordinary ability in the sciences, education, business, arts or athletics and individuals of extraordinary achievement in the motion picture and television industries. Documentation must be provided to establish that the applicant’s extraordinary ability has been demonstrated through sustained national or international acclaim. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) must approve the O-1 visa petition. The person entering the United States must be coming to work in their field of ability, but the position need not require the services of a person of extraordinary ability.

O-1 visas are valid initially for up to 3 years with possible additional extensions in one year increments to continue the same work in the field of extraordinary ability. In order to qualify as an alien of extraordinary ability the applicant must provide evidence of having received a major internationally recognized award, such as the Nobel Prize, or three or more of the following:

  1. Receipt of lesser nationally or internationally recognized prizes or awards for excellence in the field in which extraordinary ability is claimed.
  2. Membership in associations in the field of extraordinary ability which require outstanding achievements of their members, as judged by recognized experts in the field.
  3. Evidence of authorship of scholarly articles in the field, in professional journals, or other major media.
  4. Published material in professional or major trade publications or major media about the applicant's work.
  5. Evidence of participation on a panel, or individually, serving as the judge of the work of others in the field of extraordinary ability.
  6. Evidence in the form of numerous letters from prominent colleagues who can confirm the applicant's original scientific or scholarly contributions of major significance to the field. The case is strengthened by letters from outside of the employment and academic circle of the applicant. Recommendations from experts in other countries are particularly desirable.
  7. Evidence of employment in a critical or essential capacity for organizations and establishments that have a distinguished reputation.
  8. Evidence that the applicant commands a high salary or other compensation for his or her services.

Comparable evidence that does not fit within the above categories may also be submitted.

Extraordinary ability in the arts means that the applicant has attained distinction. Distinction for the O-1 visa category is “a high level of achievement in the field of arts evidenced by a degree of skill and recognition substantially above that ordinarily encountered.” Prominence in the field has also been found to constitute distinction. The O-1 visa applicant can prove distinction by being the nominee or recipient of a important national or international prize such as an Academy Award or Emmy Award, or by submitting documentation of at least three of the following:

  • Evidence that the alien has performed, and will perform, services as a lead or starring participant in productions or events which have a distinguished reputation as evidenced by critical reviews, advertisements, publicity released, publications contracts, or endorsements or evidence that the alien has achieved national or international recognition for achievements evidenced by critical reviews or other published materials by or about the individual in major newspapers, trade journals, magazines, or other publications;
  • Evidence that the alien has performed, and will perform, in a lead, starring, or critical role for organizations and establishments that have a distinguished reputation evidenced by articles in newspapers, trade journals, publications, or testimonials;
  • Evidence that the alien has a record or major commercial or critically acclaimed successes as evidenced by such indicators as title, rating, standing in the field, box office receipts, motion pictures or television ratings, and other occupational achievements reported in trade journals, major newspapers, or other publications;
  • Evidence that the alien has received significant recognition for achievements from organizations, critics, government agencies, or other recognized experts in the filed in which the alien is engaged. Such testimonials must be in a form which clearly indicates the author’s authority, expertise, and knowledge of the alien’s achievements; or
  • Evidence that the alien 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, as evidenced by contracts or other reliable evidence.

Comparable evidence may also be submitted to supplement the above types of evidence or in lieu of the above evidentiary categories.

O-2 visas can be obtained for those accompanying the O-1 visa holder who will assist the O-1 alien in their performance in the field of extraordinary ability. An O-2 visa applicant must be an integral part of the actual performance, possess critical skills and experience that cannot be performed by others, and, in the field of television and motion pictures, include a long-standing working relationship with the O-1 visa holder. Documentary evidence is filed to establish the O-2 visa applicant’s essential role, and that prove he or she has skills and experience not possessed by immediately available United States workers.

USCIS requires a consultation with a United States-based organization in the field of the alien’s extraordinary ability. O-1 visa applicants in the television and motion picture industries must seek a consultation with the industry labor union and management organization. This consultation must affirm the O-1 visa applicant’s accomplishments in the field and whether the position at issue requires an individual with extraordinary ability. All O-1 and O-2 visa applicants must have in their petitions an advisory opinion from a peer group, labor union, or expert in the applicant’s field. The opinion can either state that the group has no objection to issuing the visa, or can describe the O-1 visa applicant’s achievements. If the prospective O-1 visa holder’s achievements are described, the advisory opinion should also address the applicant’s ability, the nature of the position offered, and whether the position requires a person of extraordinary ability.

An alien cannot apply for an O visa as the petitioner. A United States agent is frequently used. Multiple employment opportunities can be covered under the agent’s petition for the prospective O-1 visa holder. Contracts from each employer as well as an itinerary of the extraordinary alien’s events would be submitted with the O-1 visa application. O-1 visa petitions are filed at the USCIS regional service center with jurisdiction over the United States agent. If the petitioner is a foreign employer, the application is filed at the USCIS regional service center with jurisdiction over the location of the first place the prospective O-1 visa holder will work. O visas cannot be self sponsored. The petition may be filed by agents, managers, concert venues, and others can file the O-1 petition when there is no traditional employer.

The application for an O visa extension does not need to include a consultation, but must have a statement describing why the extension is sought. O visas are known as dual intent visas which permit the applicant who has filed a labor certification or petition for classification as a preference worker leading to permanent residence to be granted an O visa without the O visa being denied due to immigrant intent.

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To speak to an experienced immigration attorney about your business or individual immigration needs, please contact us online or call 412-291-4400 | 215-880-4977 | 347-839-1700 | 404-736-9195. May Law Group represents corporate clients and individuals throughout the United States, including Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, New York, New Jersey, Atlanta, Virginia, Ohio, Allegheny County, and worldwide in Korea, Africa, India, and Pakistan.


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