O-1 visas, which are temporary (“nonimmigrant”) visas, valid initially for up to three years and renewable thereafter, are available to applicants who have extraordinary ability in the sciences, arts, education, business, or athletics which has been demonstrated by sustained national or international acclaim and who are coming temporarily to the United States to continue work in the area of extraordinary ability.
Extraordinary ability means a level of expertise indicating that the individual is one of that small percentage who have risen to the very top of the field of endeavor. In order to qualify the applicant must furnish evidence to show that he or she has sustained national or international acclaim and that his or her achievements have been recognized in the field of expertise.
Extraordinary Ability may be demonstrated by evidence of a one-time achievement (such as a major, internationally recognized award), or evidence of at least three of the following:
- receipt of lesser nationally or internationally recognized prizes or awards for excellence
- membership in associations which require outstanding achievement of their members
- published material about the applicant relating to the applicant’s work in the field for which classification is sought
- participation on a panel, or individually, as a judge of the work of others in the field of specialization
- original scientific, scholarly, artistic, athletic or business-related contributions of major significance in the field
- authorship of scholarly articles in the field
- evidence that the applicant has commanded a high salary or other significantly high remuneration for services in relation to others in the field
(Note: USCIS regulations provide additional criteria which are unique for artists or performers).
If the above standards do not readily apply to the applicant’s occupation, the petitioner may submit comparable evidence to establish eligibility.
A significant advantage of the O-1 visa is that a J-1 Exchange Visitor who is subject to the two year foreign residence requirement can obtain an O-1 visa before complying with the requirement or obtaining a waiver. However, he/she must depart from the U.S. to obtain the visa at a U.S. Consulate. He/she cannot change status from J-1 to O-1 in the U.S. in this situation.