O-1 Visa

(Extraordinary Ability)

The O-1 visa is a classic work and residence permit for the U.S. that enables particularly talented foreigners to work in the U.S. (at a U.S. company or organization). Applications may also be submitted by a U.S. agency. These are subject to a strict review procedure. For example, the applicant must submit proof that the U.S. agent does in fact act as such and that it in business as an agent.

Only persons who have exceptional skills in certain areas qualify for an O-1 visa.

Extraordinary Ability in this context means that the person

  • has a particularly high level of skills and abilities in their field.
  • The applicant must be able to show far above the average level of training in their area of expertise.
  • They must have been recognized for professional accomplishments within their area of expertise.
  • The applicant must be among the leaders in their field of work.


Entry Requirements

O-1 visa applications can only be filed by U.S. companies or by U.S. agents on behalf of each employee (petitioner). Evidence of the existence of the U.S. company is therefore a fundamental requirement. Even non-profit or government organizations and U.S. universities or educational institutions can apply for O-1 visas on behalf of foreigners.

There are two categories of people with extraordinary abilities who can qualify for the O-1 visa:

Extraordinary ability in the sciences, education, business or sports (O-1A).
The O-1A status is available to those who are at the top of their field. Individuals in the field of science, education, business or sport must be able to demonstrate their leading position by showing that they have received important international awards, such as the Nobel Prize. Since such special awards are rarely issued, extraordinary abilities can also be demonstrated by satisfying at least three of the following criteria:

  • Receipt of a recognized (national/European) prize for outstanding achievements in science, education, business, and sports.
  • Membership in national associations with a corresponding reputation, which promote excellence in their field.
  • Publications about the visa applicant in (professional) magazines and commercial publications.
  • Participation as a judge in panels that assess the work of other experts in the relevant field.
  • Contributions of extraordinary importance in the respective field.
  • Authorship of important articles in journals or trade publications.
  • Contributions to the work of organizations with excellent reputations.
  • A disproportionately high salary or other (special) compensation as a result of these accomplishments.

Exceptional skills in the field of art and extraordinary achievements in the film and television industry (O-1B)
To qualify for an O-1B visa in one of these categories, you must have obtained significant national or international awards in your field or have been nominated for such an award (e.g., the Academy Award (Oscar), Emmy, Grammy, a Director’s Guild prize, as well as comparable prices in your country of origin).

If you have not received such a major award or prize, you can also qualify for an O visa if you meet at least three of the following criteria:

Past or future roles as a leading actor/actress, supporting roles in outstanding productions or other important artistic “highlights.

  • National or international recognition for achievements in your field
  • Engagements in a leading or supporting role, or a critically acclaimed supporting role in a production put on by an important social organization or institution. 
  • Significant commercial success (blockbusters) or critically acclaimed successes in your field.
  • Receipt of recognition of your achievements in your field by recognized experts
  • Previous or current above-average income or other forms of remuneration.

If one or more of the above criteria do not apply directly to the applicant, they can also submit other similar documents proving their exceptional abilities and skills in their field.


Period of Validity

Normally these visas are granted for up to three years during the first application. The visa can be renewed for virtually an unlimited number of times for periods of up to one year as long as the visa holder is employed at a U.S. workplace.


Application Process

To obtain the O visa, the applicant must submit an advisory opinion (which is also called a “no objection letter). This report is usually issued by the relevant U.S. trade association or any U.S. union/professional organization, and it certifies the extraordinary qualifications of the applicant, on the one hand, and that there are no objections to the applicant’s employment, on the other.

If no equivalent U.S. professional organization exists, this opinion can be drafted by appropriate experts (so-called “recognized authorities) from a relevant industry. As a rule, it is necessary to obtain several independent opinions.

The second step is the actual filing of the O-1 petition with the competent service center of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) in the U.S.

If the USCIS application is approved, the U.S. company will receive an approval notice by regular mail. During the last step the future employee must go through the consulate process during which the actual O-1 visa will be issued (the only exceptions to this procedure are status extension or change processes that are initiated from within the United States). The application process usually takes place during the personal interview at the appropriate U.S. consulate in the applicant’s home country.


Family Members

Spouses and unmarried children under 21 years of age receive a derivative O-3 visa lasting the same period as the principal applicant’s O-1 visa. Once children reach the American age of majority (21), they must change their non-immigrant visa status or leave the country.

The spouse with an O-3 visa is not eligible to receive a separate work permit (Employment Authorization Document, EAD). Therefore, neither they nor their children are allowed to accept employment.  Spouses and children with an O-3 visa are allowed to attend private and public educational institutions.

Frequently asked questions about the O-1 visa for the U.S.

Can O-1 visa holders bring their family members to the United States?

Spouses and unmarried children under 21 years of age shall be issued a derived O-3 visa upon application for the same period as the main applicant. However, if the children reach the age of majority valid in the U.S., they must change their nonimmigrant status or leave the country.

Spouses cannot obtain their own Employment Authorization Document (EAD) with the O-3 Visa. Therefore, taking up employment is generally not permitted, also not for children. Spouses and children can attend private and public educational institutions with the O-3 visa.