Visa O – Extraordinary Ability or Achievement

runThe O visa is designed for highly talented or acclaimed individuals.  This visa is available to artists, entertainers, athletes or businessmen.  The O visa provides an alternative to the H1-B degreed professional category.  Unlike the H1-B visa, it does not require wage certification or a professional degree.  It is also not subject to quotas as with many other types of visas.

Legal Authority and Scope

Section 101(a)(15)(O) of the INA designates the O-1, O-2 and O-3 visa classifications for aliens of extraordinary ability in the sciences, arts, education, business or athletics.  The O-2 category is designated for certain aliens accompanying O-1 aliens in the arts or athletics, while O-3 visas are designated for dependents of aliens holding O-1 and O-2 visas.  The regulations governing this category are found at 8 CFR §214.2(o).

Rules for Traded Professional O-1 Athletes

A professional O-1 athlete traded from one organization to another is automatically entitled to work for thirty days after the trade, provided a new I-129 is filed within that period.  Once the I-129 is filed, the athlete will be authorized to work until USCIS completes its review.  There is no foreign-residence requirement for O-1 aliens, who, along with their dependents, may seek permanent residence without jeopardizing their ability to maintain, extend or reacquire their status.  O-2 aliens, on the other hand, must maintain a permanent residence abroad and, therefore, cannot obtain such status in the United States.

Admission Criteria

There is no limit on the length of admission for an O-1 alien.  The law, however, allows admission only for the duration of the event.  As a rule, the O-1 alien has three years to complete the event or activity allowed by this visa.  An alien, though, may apply for one-year extensions to complete the same event or activity.  In addition, extensions may be granted to O-1 professionals changing employment as long as the subsequent employment can be categorized as the same event or activity.  For example, the transfer of a violin professor from one school to another is permitted.  There is no limit to the number of extensions.  Finally, an O-1 alien may arrive in the United States ten days prior to the scheduled event but may not work during this period.

The term “event” includes such activities as scientific projects, conferences, conventions, lecture series, tours, exhibits, business projects, academic years or engagements per 8 CFR 214.2(o)(3)(ii).  Further, 8 CFR 214.2(o)(16) states that the term “activities” may include short vacations, promotional appearances and stopovers that are incidental but related to the event.  A group of related activities falls under the definition of “activities.”  If an O-1 alien is terminated from his employment, then the petitioner and employer are jointly and severally liable for his transportation costs to his last place of residence.