This temporary “extraordinary ability visa” allows foreign nationals who possess extraordinary ability in their field of arts, sport, business, education, or the sciences to enter and work in the US. While the bar is set extremely high, for talented individuals who also have documented records of their achievements and a willing sponsor, the process can often be pleasantly short and painless.

Also included in the category of O visas are the O2 visa for support staff of the O1 beneficiary, and the O3 visa for immediate family members of both O1 and O2 visa holders. The O1 visa has an initial period of stay of up to three years and is renewable annually and indefinitely while the beneficiary maintains a valid O1 employment or contract in the US.

What Is the O1 Visa?

The O-1 visa is the non-immigrant equivalent of the EB1 green card and is available for foreign nationals with extraordinary ability in certain fields of work. Unlike EB1, however, individuals cannot self-petition for the O-1 visa. There are two subcategories that fall under the O1. The O1A is a visa for those with extraordinary ability in the fields of science, athletics, business, or education while the O1B provides a way for extraordinary artists including actors to work in the US.

What Is the Definition of "Extraordinary Ability"?

So, what exactly does the “extraordinary ability” part of the extraordinary ability visa mean? According to USCIS, this means a level of expertise that places a person in a small percentage at the very top of their field of science, education, business, or athletics. For those in the arts, the individual must show a degree of skill and recognition substantially above what is considered standard to the extent that they are known leaders in their field of the arts. For applicants in the motion picture or television industry, high levels of recognized accomplishment in their field is indicated.

O1 Visa Requirements

There are several ways to demonstrate that a beneficiary possesses extraordinary ability based on USCIS guidelines. The simplest would be to provide evidence of a top-level well-recognized, international award such as a Nobel Prize, Olympic medal, Oscar or Grammy. For winners of such awards, it alone can serve as sufficient evidence of their achievements.

For the large majority of applicants, the O1 visa requirements call for three pieces of evidence to demonstrate extraordinary ability. The lists of choices vary slightly between the O1A and O1B subcategories.


  • Receipt of a nationally or internationally recognized award in the field of endeavor
  • Membership into an association that requires outstanding achievements in the field of endeavor
  • Published material in professional or major trade publication or major media about the beneficiary or their work
  • Original contributions that are of major significance in the field of science, education, or business
  • Articles published in professional journals or other major media written by the beneficiary
  • Evidence of high salary or other remuneration for services
  • Participation as a judge (individually or on a panel) on others’ work within the field of specialization
  • Critical or essential employee of an organization or establishment with a prominent reputation


  • Has and will perform as a lead or starring participant for a production or event of distinguished reputation
  • Has national or international recognition for achievements, evidenced by critical reviews or other published materials by or about the beneficiary
  • Has and will perform in a lead, starring, or critical role for a distinguished organization or establishment
  • Record of major commercial or critically acclaimed success
  • Has received high-level acknowledgement from recognized experts in the field
  • Evidence of high salary or other remuneration for services

O1 Visa Processing Time

Processing time for the O1 visa is relatively short, usually ranging from 2-3 months. There are several service centers that process I-129 petitions for O visas with varying average processing times. Where your petition is processed will depend on your place of employment, and there is the option for premium processing to expedite your petition to around 15 calendar days. The latest O1 visa processing time can be found on the USCIS website.  

O1 Visa Approval Rate

The O1 visa approval rate is relatively high with reports of between 80-95% approval. The rate is especially high for petitions that are prepared with the help of an experienced immigration attorney.

O1 Visa Work Restrictions

O1 visa holders are restricted to the work for which their visa was granted. They may not engage in any other employment that was not part of the original visa application. Also, the visa is entirely dependent on the employment meaning that there is no grace period beyond the original visa validity if the employment ends. This means that visa holders wishing to transition to different employment within the US will need to obtain a new O1 visa through the new employer prior to the expiration of the original visa.

O1 Visa to Green Card

Like the H1B, the O-1 visa also allows “dual intent”, meaning that visa holders may pursue permanent residence while working in the US under the O1. With both falling under the extraordinary ability visa category, many O1 visa holders stand a good chance of qualifying for the EB1 first preference employment based green card category, making the O1 visa to green card process relatively easy.

One of the greatest advantages of the EB1 category is that self-petitioning is permitted, which bypasses the hassle of finding an employer sponsor and the lengthy labor certification process. If the sponsor and labor certification are already in place, applicants may also consider EB2 or EB3. For those with investment funds who are looking to seek permanent residence without being restricted to working in their specific field or place of employment, EB5 may also be considered.

How we can help with your EB1 or O1 Visa needs

At Immigration General Counsel, we are highly experienced in both the O1 temporary visa and EB1 green card processes. We have assisted many clients, assistants, and their families in not only obtaining O visas, but also in their smooth and successful transition toward permanent residence through the EB1, EB2, EB3, and EB5 employment based green card categories. With corporate, professional, and investor visa specialties, we are fully equipped toward your immigration success. Also, as a boutique immigration law firm, we are dedicated to providing you with personalized service from beginning to end with direct access to your immigration attorney.

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