A guide to applying for the O-1 visa for extraordinary individuals

What’s covered:

  • What is an O-1 visa?
  • O-1 vs H-1B
  • How to apply
  • Recommendation Letters
  • Processing times and fees
  • RFEs
  • There is no annual quota on the number of visas that can be issued (H1Bs only have a quota for the initial visa; there is no quota for renewals)
  • The processing time is typically faster than for the H-1B
  • O-1 status is far less likely to be subject to political controversies (and adverse changes in visa rules)
  • There is no ultimate limit on how long you can stay in the US — after your first visa status expires, you can keep extending your status indefinitely in one-year increments (However you can stay on H1-B in the US past 6 years if you have a pending green card petition. H1-Bs are issued in 3-year increments, so you could indefinitely renew for 3-year increments until you’re eligible for a green card)
  • a sponsor (an employer) who can file the application on your behalf.
  • if you want to work on your own startup or other independent work, you’ll need to form an LLC or C Corp. I didn’t try this method but the O-1 requires you to own 49% equity in the sponsor company or have an odd number of directors on your board so you can be fired. You’ll need to submit a business plan as part of your application.
  • If you are in the US on other lawful status, then along with the I-129 form, you will need to file a change of status form requesting to change your status from your current temporary visa to an O status.
  • For people on an OPT, F1 or J1, it is possible to change to an O-1 — there’s SO many myths that you can’t switch and that’s a not true. However it is harder to prove extraordinary status if you’re moving from one of these visas.
  • If you are outside of the US, once your I-129 visa petition is approved, the next step is to obtain an O visa from the US consulate in your country.
  1. A copy of your contract with your employer
  • You don’t need the original copy, and USCIS (apparently!) will accept an oral contract as long as your provide them a summary of the essential terms
  • Nationally or internationally recognized prizes or awards in your field.
  • Membership in professional or occupational associations for which membership requires outstanding achievement (something equivalent to the National Academy of Sciences, for example) as judged by experts in the field..
  • Publications in professional journals or distinguished trade publications or other major media about you and your work.
  • Original and significant scientific, scholarly, or commercial contributions to your field.
  • Scholarly articles in your field published in professional journals.
  • A high level of compensation (salary or other remuneration).
  • Participation as a judge in evaluating the work of other participants in your field or a similar field.
  • Employment in an essential role for organizations with distinguished reputations.
  1. Your sponsor must complete and sign Form I-129, Petition for Non-Immigrant Worker and related I-129 O supplement (your attorney will help you with this but you’ll have to ask your employer to sign several forms)
  2. Include all supporting documentation of your extraordinary ability (you’ll need to include copies of every piece of evidence — copies of your degree, relevant articles, prizes etc).
  3. Prepare the filing fee of $460 in the form of a business or personal check, money order or cashier’s check, payable to “Department of Homeland Security.”
  4. Send the application package to the appropriate USCIS Service Center.
  5. The USCIS will send a Receipt Notice. This confirms that USCIS received the application.



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Lisa Wehden

Lisa Wehden

Investor @BloombergBeta, Ex-Special Projects @join_ef, former President @OxfordUnion. Free speech, startups, technology, humanity..