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How Exceptional Is Exceptional? The O-1A & O-1B Visa Described

By February 15, 2014May 20th, 2021Extraordinary Ability, Immigration
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The O-1 visa is for individual who possesses 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 and has been recognized nationally or internationally for those achievements.  The main O-1 categories are:

  • O-1A: individuals with an extraordinary ability in the sciences, education, business, or athletics (excluding the arts, motion pictures or television industry)
  • O-1B: individuals with an extraordinary ability in the arts or extraordinary achievement in motion picture or television industry

For each of these two main categories immigration officials have different criteria that are used to asses a potential applicant.  By far, an O-1A visa is the most difficult visa to obtain.  Next, an O-1(B) visa where the category is motion picture or television is second on the list in terms of difficulty.  Finally, proving extraordinary achievement in the arts (eg. Chef, Artist, Graphic Designer, Painter, etc.) has the least stringent requirements.  (although still difficult).

What Are The Requirements for an O-1A Visa?

The O-1A visa is for individuals with an extraordinary ability in the sciences, education, business, or athletics and is set aside for people who have risen to the top of their profession.  Additionally, these persons must be coming temporarily to the United States to continue work in their area of extraordinary ability.

The applicant must show evidence that the beneficiary has received a major, internationally-recognized award, such as a Nobel Prize, or evidence of at least (3) three of the following:

  • Receipt of nationally or internationally recognized prizes or awards for excellence in the field of endeavor
  • Membership in associations in the field for which classification is sought which require outstanding achievements, as judged by recognized national or international experts in the field
  • Published material in professional or major trade publications, newspapers or other major media about the beneficiary and the beneficiary’s work in the field for which classification is sought
  • Original scientific, scholarly, or business-related contributions of major significance in the field
  • Authorship of scholarly articles in professional journals or other major media in the field for which classification is sought
  • A high salary or other remuneration for services as evidenced by contracts or other reliable evidence
  • Participation on a panel, or individually, as a judge of the work of others in the same or in a field of specialization allied to that field for which classification is sought
  • Employment in a critical or essential capacity for organizations and establishments that have a distinguished reputation

If the above criteria do not readily apply to the beneficiary’s occupation, the petitioner may submit comparable evidence in order to establish the beneficiary’s eligibility.

What Are The Requirements for an O-1B Visa?

The O-1B visa is for foreign nationals (aliens) who have demonstrated extraordinary ability by sustained national or international acclaim in the arts or extraordinary achievement in motion picture or television industry.  Additionally, these persons must be coming temporarily to the United States to continue work in their area of extraordinary ability.

For the arts, the alien must show that he has acquired “distinction” in his artistic field.
 “Distinction” means a high level of achievement as evidenced by a degree of skill and recognition substantially above that ordinarily encountered to the extent that the person is described as prominent, leading, or well-known in the field of arts. For those in the motion picture or television industry, the standard is higher and the applicant should be prepared to show that he/she has reached a level of acclaim substantially above that of his/her peers.

The alien may establish qualification through evidence of nomination or receipt of a major, national or international recognized award such as an Academy Award, an Emmy, a Grammy, or a Director’s Guild Award. In absence of such an award one can establish himself as a qualifying alien through at least three of the following types of evidence:

  • Having been or will be performing a lead or starring role in productions or events which have a distinguished reputation (as evidenced by critical reviews, advertisements, press releases, publications contracts, or endorsements);
  • Critical reviews or other published material in professional or major trade publication or in the major media by or about the alien which show that the alien has achieved national or international recognition or achievements;
  • Evidence of performance in a lead, starring or critical role for organizations or establishments with distinguished reputations;
  • Evidence of a record of major commercial or critically acclaimed successes in the performing arts, as shown by box office receipts or record, cassette, compact disk, or video sales.
  • Evidence of significant recognition for achievements form organizations, government agencies, or other recognized experts in the field;
  • Evidence of having commanded a high salary or other significantly high remuneration for services in relation to others; and
  • Other comparable evidence (This category is not available for those in the motion picture industry)

What Are Some Other Consideration?

  • Keep everything and let us know about it no matter how small. Keep original evidence of any professional recognition, particularly anything from beyond the four walls of your employer, such as public speaking engagements or committee service for professional organizations. Again, what is relevant will vary widely depending on the nature of your work: Keep professional prizes, press coverage about you & your work, publications by you (include peer-reviewed articles, editorials, op-ed, trade & general press, books, etc.), peer review by you of publications by others, patents, programs (from performances, exhibitions, panels, conferences, etc.), press releases, publicity materials, and paystubs – if you are paid significantly more than others in your field. Any published material should show the name & date of publication.
  • An O-1 visa petition must be accompanied by an advisory consultation letter from a labor union or peer group, consenting to the offered employment in the U.S. and confirming that you meet the relevant standard as “extraordinary”.  Discuss this with counsel, as obtaining the advisory consultation letter is one of the last steps before a petition is filed.
  • You can never be too extraordinary or have too much evidence, so keep aspiring to do more, whether that means publishing, performing or developing new products. Even though an applicant may not qualify now, he/she may qualify in 6 months, a year, etc..
  • You should NOT look for and should NOT use templates to write reference letters.  This is a quick way for your letters to be discounted.  Your letters should be written by the people selected by the applicant (in consultation with the lawyer) and legal counsel should review and make suggestions to the letters.
  • USCIS is generally looking for 6-8 letters and QUALITY is more important than Quantity.  These letters are very important to the petition.
  • The requirements for an O-1 and EB-1 petition are different and an EB-1 petition has a much higher legal standard. This is particularly the case if you are in the O-1(B) category.

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