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Demystifying the O-1 Visa: You May Be More Extraordinary Than You Think

At McEntee Law, we frequently prepare and file O-1 and EB-1 green card cases on behalf of extraordinary clients in various industries and specialties. Our clients include the creative director of an award-winning Irish clothing line, a world class event producer, a music tech entrepreneur, an innovative green roof technology expert, a leading professional sports executive, an incredible fine artist, and a top business executive of a life-saving technology company.

Extraordinary ability cases are a niche practice area within immigration. When you’re looking for an immigration attorney, it’s critical that you pick a firm with experience in this particular arena. Given her experience our Managing Attorney, Fiona McEntee, has been hand selected to lead a panel discussion on O-1 visa and EB-1 green card at the American Immigration Lawyers Association Annual Conference in Florida in June. On this advanced level panel, Fiona and her co-panelists will discuss more creative strategies for our more creative clients.

This article is the first in our series of blog postings on the O-1 visa.  As we prepare to launch a new site extraordinaryvisas.com, in the coming weeks, we will be discussing the O-1 requirements, tips and best practices, the all-important expert letters, filing procedures and timelines, amongst other things, so stay tuned.

Tumultuous political climate aside, we remain hopeful that foreign talent and extraordinary ability will always have a place in the United States. Many individuals who are among the best in their fields want to bring their talent to the U.S. For those individuals, the O-1 visa could be their ticket to America.

Companies seek out executives who are masters in business. Universities and research facilities want to add top scientists and educators to their rolls. Audiences line up around the block to see amazing performers on the stage and screen, and sports fans will fill the stands to see athletes at the top of their game. Fashion bloggers and influencers can also maximize their impressive online following and turn it into extraordinary real-life success.  

What makes one person a world-class soccer player is different than what makes another person a top businessperson or a superb musician. For that reason, there are two types of O-1 visas. The requirements and evidence needed for an O-1 visa can vary greatly depending on the type of O-1 and the field of expertise.

Our experienced team at McEntee Law is available to answer any specific questions or assist you or a prospective employer with a potential O-1 visa. For now, we’ll provide a broad overview of the two different types of O-1 visas below.

Types of O-1 Visas

There are two main types of O-1 visas:

  • O-1A: For people with extraordinary abilitly in business, science, education, and athletics

  • O-1B: For people with extraordinary abililty in the arts/music, or in the motion picture or television industry

What does it mean to be extraordinary?

The O-1 visa was created to give a path to the U.S. based on an individual’s unique extraordinary abilities and achievements. There is no set limit on the number of O-1 visas that can be issued each year -  almost 14,000 individuals received O-1 visas in 2015, the last year for which statistics are available.

For the purpose of applying for an O-1 visa, an individual is considered extraordinary if:

  • O-1A: Business, Science, Education & Athletics - They have a level of expertise indicating that they are “one of the small percentage who has risen to the very top of the field of endeavor.”

  • O-1B: Arts/Music/Motion Picture/TV - Their work has reached a level of distinction meaning a “high level of achievement” as “evidenced by a degree of skill and recognition substantially above that ordinarily encountered” in their field.

Note that extraordinary does not mean “good at your job” or “successful”, but please do not be put off by the above standards. We’ve worked with many clients who were extremely humble, yet undoubtedly extraordinary. After a thorough review of their background and achievements, we determined that the O-1 visa could (and did!) work for them.

Over the course of our O-1 blog series, we will go through the specific O-1 requirements in detail. We’ll discuss how you can begin to build the substantial evidence needed to prove that you are at the top of your field, worthy of an O-1 visa - that you are extraordinary per the Department of Homeland Security’s standards.

In the meantime, if you are U.S. business or agent looking to bring a talented individual to the U.S., or you are that talented individual, please contact McEntee Law Group to schedule a consultation to determine if the O-1 visa is a feasible option.