O-1 Visas for Persons of Extraordinary Ability

Overview: O-1 Visa

O-1 VisaThe “O-1” classification is temporary employment authorization issued by the US Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) to foreigners who have “Extraordinary Ability” in the sciences, arts, education, business, or athletics, or who has a demonstrated record of Extraordinary Achievement in the motion picture or television industry. In the O-1 process, the employer is called the “O-1 Petitioner” and the prospective employee is called the “O-1 Beneficiary.

An “O-2” visa is available to a person who will accompany an O-1 visa holder in order to assist in the artistic or athletic performance.

An “O-3” visa is available to the spouse and minor unmarried children under age 21 of the O-1 or O-2 visa holder.


O-1 Petitioner Requirements

The O-1 Petitioner must provide a contract for the beneficiary’s services, including an itinerary or other details of the specific activities the beneficiary will perform in the US. The O-1 Petitioner may be an agent for multiple employers or for a foreign employer. If the beneficiary will work directly for multiple employers without an agent representing all employers, each employer must receive approval of a separate O-1 petition. If the O-1 Beneficiary will change employers, the new employer must obtain approval of a new O-1 petition. The beneficiary may receive compensation inside the US only from the O-1 petitioner. The O-1 beneficiary may not be hired in the context of a strike or work stoppage. If the O-1 beneficiary’s employment is terminated by the employer before the expiration of the O-1 petition, the O-1 petitioner must pay the beneficiary for the cost of return transportation abroad.

O-1 Beneficiary Requirements

The O-1 Beneficiary must meet the criteria for the specific type of O-1 activity, as follows:

  • Arts. Extraordinary ability in the arts means the person has a degree of skill and recognition substantially in the art form that is substantially above that ordinarily encountered. An artist who is “renowned,” “leading,” or “well-known” in the field of arts meets these criteria. An “art” includes fine arts, visual arts, culinary arts, and performing arts.
  • Science, education, business, or athletics. Extraordinary ability in the field of science, education, business, or athletics means the beneficiary is one of the small percentage who has arisen to the very top of his or her field.
  • Motion picture and television production. Extraordinary achievement in motion picture and television productions means the beneficiary has a degree of skill and recognition significantly above that ordinarily encountered.  In other words, the beneficiary is recognized as “outstanding,” “notable,” or “leading” in the motion picture or television field.

O-2 Beneficiary Requirements

An O-2 visa is available for a person who will accompany and assist in the artistic or athletic performance of an O-1 Beneficiary. In the context of the performing arts, an O-2 Beneficiary may be a director, set designer, lighting designer, sound designer, choreographer, choreologist, conductor, orchestrator, coach, arranger, musical supervisor, costume designer, makeup artist, flight master, stage technician, animal trainer, or perform other similar support role. The O-2 Beneficiary must be an integral part of the actual performances or events of the O-1 Beneficiary. The O-2 Beneficiary must possess skills and work experience supporting the O-1 Beneficiary. These skills and experience must be shown to be critical to the O-1’s performance and may not be general in nature.


The O-1 process involves two steps. The first step is obtaining approval of the O-1 petition from the Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS). The second step, obtaining an O-1 visa stamp in the beneficiary’s passport from an American Consulate or Embassy, is generally required if the beneficiary will enter the US from abroad.

Step 1: The O-1 Petition

The O-1 petition is submitted to the USCIS. An O-1 petition may be approved for up to three years, and extensions are available indefinitely, in one year increments. The processing time for an O-1 petition varies between 1 to 5 months. The USCIS offers premium processing, which commits the USCIS to completing case action within 15 days. There is no limit or quota on the number of new O-1 workers that can be approved each year. There is no limit on the number of O-1 petitioners that an O-1 beneficiary may be approved to work for. An O-1 beneficiary may be approved for concurrent O-1 employment with more than one employer. A petitioner must file a separate O-2 petition for each O-2 worker who will support the O-1 beneficiary.

Step 2: The O-1 Visa Stamp

After the O-1 petition has been approved by the USCIS, the beneficiary may go to an American Embassy or Consulate overseas to obtain an O-1 visa stamp. The visa stamp in the passport is generally required for entry into the United States in O-1 status. O-2 support workers follow the same process to receive O-2 visas. Dependent family members follow the same process to receive O-3 visas. The visa stamping process normally is completed within 1 to 5 days after an interview at the American Embassy or Consulate.

Because government processing times vary, and a case may have special circumstances, the O-1 beneficiary should not make any final plans such as starting or terminating employment or school, traveling to, or from, the United States, purchasing nonrefundable tickets, selling or buying property, signing or terminating a lease, shipping or storing personal goods, etc., until the application for O-1 status or visa has been approved or the O-1 beneficiary has received written advice to take such action from this Law Office.

Permanent Residence

An O-1 beneficiary may be eligible for permanent residence in the US through a streamlined process, under the employment based first preference immigrant category. The O-1 beneficiary may continue to work and travel internationally with an O-1 visa while the permanent residence process is underway.  O-3 dependents may receive permanent residence along with the O-1 beneficiary.

There is no streamlined permanent residence process for an O-2 support worker. An O-2 support worker will need to follow the labor certification process for permanent residence. An O-2 worker may not be eligible for an extension of O-2 status or a new O-2 visa once the permanent residence process is begun.