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Beyond Work or Marriage: The 411 on the O-1 Extraordinary Ability Visa

The immigration process is complicated and somewhat confusing, so most people know of two (legal!) ways to immigrate to the United States permanently – get a job or marry an American. However, as we are living on a new era of connections, where it’s not at all laughable to think of working side by side with someone from the other side of the world. And people from everywhere who are especially talented in their crafts or fields have taken that opportunity to immigrate to the United States.

Takeru Kobayashi, for example, immigrated to the US on a O-1A visa, for Extraordinary Ability due to his success as a competitive eater. According to the USCIS:

O-1A is status is granted to individuals with an extraordinary ability in the sciences, education, business, or athletics which has been demonstrated by sustained national or international acclaim.

In informal circles, the O-1A Visa is known as the “Genius Visa.” And regardless of whether you consider competitive eating as a sport, Kobayashi falls into the athletics category as part of the small percentage of people in the world who have risen to the very top of their fields.

O-1 Visas

O-1 visas are divided in three types O-1A, as mentioned above, O-1B for individuals with an extraordinary ability in the arts or extraordinary achievement in motion picture or television industry, and O-2 for individuals who will accompany an O-1 applicant to assist in a specific event or performance. (Think backup dancers for a famous musician.) An additional O-3 type exists to cover O-1 applicants’ immediate family.

There are many famous actors, singers, writers, artists and performers in different areas who have been able to immigrate to the United States with the O-1B Visa. In fact there are O-1B Visa seminars in London for aspiring actors wanting to make it big in Hollywood.

Yet wait a minute before you start filling out your application. O-1 visa applicants face a documentation process that’s nearly as extraordinary as their abilities.

To be eligible for an O-1 visa you need the following, preferably translated:
• Nationally or internationally recognized awards
• Proof of membership in an organization that requires outstanding achievement
• Published material in academic or trade publications
• Evidence that individual has judged the work of others in the field
• Original scientific or scholarly work of major significance in the individual’s field
• Evidence that the individual has been employed in a critical position at an organization with a distinguished reputation
• Proof that the individual will receive a salary much higher than others in his or her field
• Proof that the individual in the arts is cast in the lead role of a production with a distinguished reputation
• Critical reviews
• Record of major commercial success
• Opinion letter from appropriate source if available

Further, the applicant can only stay in the United States for the length of time required to perform the work needed. For example, a famous surgeon might receive an O-1 visa merely to perform one surgical procedure. This time limit is not to exceed three years, though O-1 visa holders and their sponsors can petition for 1-year exentions indefinitely.

The O-1 visa program has allowed great scientists, artists, intellectuals and performers to do great things together. And we think that’s pretty genius.