Only a U.S. employer can sponsor you for an O-1 visa. You cannot apply for an O-1 visa on your own, without a job offer, or without a U.S. employer willing to sponsor you.
The O-1 visa is a non-immigrant visa used by a small percentage of individuals who possess extraordinary ability in the arts, sciences, education or athletics (collectively O-1A), or who has demonstrated a record of extraordinary achievement in the motion picture or television industry (O-1B). Examples of people eligible for an O-1 visa include: actors, singers, scientists, professors, writers or professional athletes.
What is extraordinary ability?
How does the USCIS determine that an individual possesses “extraordinary ability”? For one thing, the individual must have sustained national or international acclaim. This means that he/she is widely recognized as being one of the very best in his/her field. With respect to the O-1A visa in the areas of science, education, business or athletics, extraordinary ability is defined as “a level of expertise indicating that the person is one of the small percentage who has risen to the very top of the field of endeavor.” For O-1B visas in the field of arts, motion picture or television, the USCIS uses the term “distinction,” which is “a high level of achievement in the field of the arts evidenced by a degree of skill and recognition substantially above that ordinarily encountered to the extent that a person described as prominent is renowned, leading, or well-known in the field of arts.”
How do I qualify as extraordinary?
Let’s be honest: most people do not qualify as extraordinary. To qualify for an O-1 visa in the movie or television industry, the individual must demonstrate extraordinary achievement “evidenced by a degree of skill and recognition significantly above that ordinarily encountered to the extent the person is recognized as outstanding, notable or leading in the motion picture and/or television field.”
What proof do I need?
For an O-1A visa, the individual must have received a major, internationally recognized award, such as a Nobel Prize, or evidence of at least three of the following:
- Recipient of a nationally/internationally recognized prize/award for excellence in the field of endeavor;
- Membership in associations in the area for which O classification is sought which require outstanding achievements, as determined by recognized national or international experts in the field;
- Publications in professional or major trade publications, newspapers or other major media about the individual and his/her work in the field;
- Original scientific, scholarly, or business-related contributions of major significance in the field;
- Written/authored scholarly articles in professional journals or other major media in the field;
- 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 field;
- Employment in a critical or essential capacity for organizations and establishments that have a distinguished reputation.
For an O-1B visa, the individual must have received, or was nominated for, significant national or international awards or prizes in the particular field, such as an Academy Award, or evidence of at least (3) three of the following:
- He/she has and will perform services 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;
- He/she achieved national or international recognition for achievements, as shown by critical reviews or other published materials by or about the beneficiary in major newspapers, trade journals, magazines, or other publications;
- He/she has and will perform in a lead, starring, or critical role for organizations and establishments that have a distinguished reputation as evidenced by articles in newspapers, trade journals, publications, or testimonials;
- He/she has a record of major commercial or critically acclaimed successes, as shown by such indicators as title, rating or standing in the field, box office receipts, motion picture or television ratings and other occupational achievements reported in trade journals, major newspapers or other publications;
- He/she received significant recognition for achievements from organizations, critics, government agencies or other recognized experts in the field in which the beneficiary is engaged, with the testimonials clearly indicating the author’s authority, expertise and knowledge of the beneficiary’s achievements;
- He/she commands a high salary or other substantial remuneration for services in relation to others in the field, as shown by contracts or other reliable evidence.
Canadians who have qualified for an O-1 visa may also want to consider self-petitioning for an EB-1 green card. While the standard for “extraordinary” under an EB-1 is generally higher than that of an O-1 visa, it certainly does not hurt for beneficiaries of O-1 visas to explore the viability of getting a green card under the EB-1 category.