To qualify for an O-1 visa, the beneficiary must meet high standards. The alien must have extraordinary ability in the sciences, arts, education, business, or athletics, or must have a record of extraordinary achievement in television or motion pictures.
There are two separate categories of O-1 visas:
- a general classification for aliens of extraordinary ability; and
- a classification for aliens with a ''demonstrated record of extraordinary achievement'' employed in the motion picture and television industries.
While the statute includes aliens in the arts, sciences, education, business and athletics in one O-1 classification and aliens in the television and motion picture industries in another, the regulations actually delineate O-1 aliens as follows:
- O-1 aliens of extraordinary ability in the arts;
- O-1 aliens of extraordinary achievement in the motion picture or television industries;
- O-1 aliens of extraordinary ability in the sciences, education, business or athletics.
As defined in the statute, the alien's extraordinary ability must be demonstrated by "sustained national or international acclaim." The requirement of "sustained" acclaim excludes aliens with extraordinary talent or extraordinary ability who have not yet achieved significant recognition for their talents or whose achievements have been short-lived. However, the alien's renown need not cross country boundaries because the statute includes national as well as international acclaim. Additionally, the alien beneficiary need not have any specific level of education.
Under the regulations, extraordinary achievement for those in motion pictures and television and extraordinary ability for those in the arts can be shown by documentation that the alien has been nominated for or been the recipient of significant national or international awards or prizes such as an Academy Award, an Emmy, a Grammy, or a Director's Guild Award; or by documentation of at least three of the following accomplishments:
- Services, performed and to be performed, as a lead or starring participant in productions or events which have a distinguished reputation as evidenced by critical reviews, advertisements, publicity releases, publications, contracts, or endorsements;
- National or international recognition for achievements evidenced by critical reviews of other published materials by or about the individual in major newspapers, trade journals, magazines, or other publications;
- Performance in a lead, starring, or critical role for organizations and establishments that have a distinguished reputation as shown by articles in newspapers, trade journals, publications, or testimonials;
- A record of major commercial or critically acclaimed successes, as evidenced by such indicators as title, rating, or standing in the field, box office receipts, credit for original research or product development, motion picture or television ratings, and other occupational achievements reported in trade journals, major newspapers, or other publications;
- Significant recognition for achievements from organizations, critics, government agencies or other recognized experts in the field in which the alien is engaged. Such testimonials must be in a form that clearly indicates the author's authority, expertise, and knowledge of the alien's achievements; or
- A high salary or other substantial remuneration for services in relation to others in the field, in the past or the future, evidenced by contracts or other reliable evidence.
- Other comparable evidence if the above standards do not readily apply to the occupation.
The regulations list the following types of evidence needed to show extraordinary ability in the sciences, business, education, and athletics: receipt of a major, internationally-recognized award, such as the Nobel Prize, or at least three of the following forms of documentation:
- Documentation of the alien's receipt of nationally or internationally recognized prizes or awards for excellence in the field of endeavor;
- Documentation of the alien's membership in associations in the field for which classification is sought, which require outstanding achievements of their members, as judged by recognized national or international experts in their disciplines or fields;
- Published material in professional or major trade publications or major media about the alien, relating to the alien's work in the field for which classification is sought, which shall include the title, date, and author of such published material, and any necessary translation;
- Evidence of the alien's participation on a panel, or individually, as a judge of the work of others in the same or in an allied field of specialization to that for which classification is sought;
- Evidence of the alien's original scientific, scholarly or business-related contributions of major significance in the field;
- Evidence of the alien's authorship of scholarly articles in the field, in professional journals or other major media;
- Evidence that the alien has been employed in a critical or essential capacity for organizations and establishments that have a distinguished reputation;
- Evidence that the alien has commanded and now commands a high salary or other remuneration for services, evidenced by contracts or other reliable evidence.
O-2 visas are reserved for aliens who accompany and assist an O-1 alien in a specific athletic or artistic event; aliens may not qualify for O-2 in the fields of education, science, or business. O-2 aliens must be an integral part of the performance and must have critical skills and experience, not of a general nature, which cannot be performed by other individuals. O-2 aliens may not work separate and apart from the principal O-1 alien. The statute sets forth separate requirements for O-2 aliens in the motion picture and television industries. These assistants must have skills or experience with the O-1 alien, not of a general nature, that are critical, either because of a previous, longstanding working relationship, or, with respect to the specific production, because much of the main parts of the production work will be done both inside and outside the United States and the continuing participation of the alien is essential to the completion of the production.
In order to obtain the O visa, the employer or agent files a petition with the INS service center having jurisdiction in the area where the alien will be employed. Approval of an O visa petition generally requires an appropriate consultation with an individual or peer group in the alien's field. (The consultation is actually a written opinion from the individual or peer group.) Both O-1 and O-2 petitions in the motion picture or television industries require both management and labor organization consultations. The evident purpose of the consultation is to support the claim of extraordinary ability or achievement with an outside opinion. However, the procedure is required even where the alien is famous or the claim is clearly established by other documentary evidence.
Although submitted well in advance of the proposed starting date, the petition will be approved only for the actual dates requested by the petitioner. The maximum period of validity of an approved O-1 or O-2 petition is three years. An O alien may be admitted to the United States for the validity period of the petition, plus up to ten days before the services begin and ten days after they end, but may not work during either ten-day period.
To obtain an extension for the purpose of completing or continuing the activity or event specified in the original petition, the petitioner must file both a request to extend the validity of the original petition, and a request to extend the alien's period of stay. The dates of extension for the petition and the stay are the same.
A petitioner may seek to extend an O-1 (or O-2) visa petition in one year increments to complete or continue the same activity or event specified in the original petition. The O classification does not have an overall time limit on length of stay. The nature of the activity or event will itself control the length of the stay.
Dependent spouses and children of O-1 and O-2 aliens are admitted in O-3 status. They may not accept employment unless they have an independent basis for employment authorization.