O-1 status is available to foreign nationals with extraordinary ability in the arts, sciences, education, business or athletics. The Immigration and Nationality Act defines an O-1 foreign national as:
A foreign national who has extraordinary ability in the sciences, arts, education, business or athletics which has been demonstrated by sustained national or international acclaim or, with regard to motion picture and television productions a demonstrated record of extraordinary achievement, and whose achievements have been recognized in the field through extensive documentation, and seeks to enter the United States (U.S.) to continue work in the area of extraordinary ability.
While the O-1 category clearly extends to many fields of endeavor, it is most commonly sought by individual foreign nationals having extraordinary ability in the field of arts because foreign nationals in science, education, business and athletics often qualify more readily under other visa status categories. For example, foreign nationals in science, education or business may qualify as specialty workers under H-1B visa status or North American Free Trade Association professionals under TN visa status.
For O-1 purposes, the "extraordinary" standard is defined differently depending upon the foreign national's field of expertise. For foreign nationals in science, education, business and athletics, the term "extraordinary ability" is defined as a level of expertise indicating that the person is one of the small percentages of professionals who have risen to the very top of their field of endeavor.
To qualify as a foreign national of extraordinary ability in science the petitioner must have received a major internationally recognized award, such as the Nobel Prize. It is also possible to qualify for O-1 visa status by meeting other very specific requirements outlined by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Consult with the immigration specialist to further discuss these qualifications.
O-1 visas are approved for the time necessary to complete the project for which the non-immigrant is admitted up to an initial period of three years. In the event that three years is not adequate time to complete the project, or if the project is ongoing, an O-1 visa can be renewed indefinitely in three-year increments.
O-3 status is available to dependents of O-1. Spouses and/or children under the age of 21 who wish to accompany the principal O-1 visa holder in the U.S. (or join him/her at a later date) for the duration of his or her stay require O-3 visas.
O-3 visa holders may work in the U.S. with the appropriate authorization. Upon admission to the U.S., the appropriate work visa will be required if employment is desired. The O-3 visa holder must file an application with the USCIS and it must be approved prior to the commencement of work. A Form I-765 Application for Employment Authorization Document Card must be filed with the local USCIS office that serves the area where they live.
The application process for obtaining an O-1 visa is similar to obtaining an H-1B visa. Before a foreign national can begin working with any employer in the U.S., the USCIS requires the employer or its representative to file all O-1 applications on behalf of the foreign national. Foreign nationals cannot apply for an O-1 visa through the USCIS on their own behalf. The employer or its representative must mail the application with the proper fees included to the USCIS California Service Center.