The O-1 VISA: Don't underestimate yourself!

If one wishes to live in the United States, a Visa is required. One option is the so called "O-1" Visa category, which is useful for highly talented or acclaimed foreign individuals.

The O-1 Visa is especially helpful to artists, athletes, entertainers, and business persons without professional degrees.  It encompasses scientists and educators as well. Furthermore, O-1 Visas are not subject to an annual cap. O-1 Visa beneficiaries in the sciences, arts, business or athletics, must have extraordinary ability "demonstrated by sustained national or international acclaim."  "Extraordinary ability" means "a level of expertise indicating that the person is one of the small percentages who have risen to the very top of the field of endeavor."  This can be proven by providing evidence either of the beneficiary's receipt of a major internationally recognized award, such as the Nobel Prize, or documentation of at least three of the following:

  • Receipt of nationally or internationally recognized prizes/awards for excellence in the field;
  • Membership in associations in the field that require outstanding achievement of their members, as judged by recognized national or international experts;
  • Published material in professional or major trade publications, or major media about the alien;
  • Participation in a panel or as a judge of the work of others in the same or an allied field of specialization;
  • Original scientific, scholarly, or business related contributions of major significance;
  • Authorship of scholarly articles in professional journals or other major media;
  • Employment in a critical or essential capacity for organizations and establishments that have a distinguished reputation; and
  • High salary or other remuneration for services.

To provide additional flexibility, the law allows the petitioner to submit comparable evidence of eligibility.  The key to success in obtaining an O-1 visa lies in defining the field of endeavor in which the individual has risen to the top.  It is easier to prove that someone has achieved the pinnacle of a very narrowly defined field with a select membership than a general one ("professor of quantum mathematics v. mathematics professor).

The burden of proof for "extraordinary ability" is lowered for artists and entertainers.  Generally, the artists and entertainers must be very successful, and show the high level of achievement in the field of art.  In short, one must be very prominent and renowned.

Artists and entertainers entering in connection with motion picture or television productions are subject to yet another definition of "extraordinary achievement".  In general, the artists and entertainers must be encountered to the extend that the person must be recognized as "outstanding", "notable", or "leading" in the motion picture or television field.

The O-1 category is another of many alternatives to live and work in the United States.

This article contains only general information and does not substitute for legal advice in a particular case. For more information in your specific case you should consult an attorney practicing in the area of immigration law. 

This article contains only general information and does not substitute for legal advice in a particular case. For more information in your specific case you should consult an attorney practicing in the area of immigration law. 

The hiring of an attorney is an important decision that should not be based solely on advertisement. Before you decide ask us to send you free information about our qualifications and experience.

The Author, Ellen von Geyso, LL.M., is Attorney at Law admitted in Germany and Florida.  This article was published in Florida World 3/2001 p. 36