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The O-1A Visa: Your Best Alternative Visa Option

If you’re a business, tech, or corporate professional trying to make the move across the pond to the United States, knowing which visa option best suits your professional and personal needs can feel like a daunting task. Each year hundreds of thousands of working professionals take the plunge into the demanding visa process, but not everyone who applies for these highly coveted visas will be lucky (or qualified) enough to nab them. And depending on which visas you are applying for; the sheer volume of visa applications poses a potential problem with pursuing the more popular and well-known tracks.

The H-1B visa option, for instance, is commonly pursued by those in specialty occupations and professions. Those working in tech, medicine and health, journalism, technical writing, computing, architecture, physical sciences, and many other specific industries see the H-1B as a go-to visa option. The H-1B allows for professionals to stay for periods of three years and is extendable to six years. Even though the H-1B is commonly pursued by these professionals across many industries, the annual cap of 65,000 can throw a wrench into the talent pool, as it is common and expected for the number of applicants to soar way above that number in this lottery-based system.

Enter the O-1 extraordinary abilities visa. Commonly but incorrectly referred to as the “genius visa” the O-1 is non-immigrant temporary worker visa that is granted to those who possess extraordinary ability within their field. The O-1A visa is for accomplished professionals within the sciences, education, business, athletics, or tech, while the O-1B track is reserved for individuals within the arts, motion picture, television, or greater entertainment industries. In 2015 nearly 14,000 O-1 visas were issued to those who applied and given that the O-1A visa option does not operate with a cap or general lottery, it could be the ideal visa option for those hoping to take their work to the United States.

The O-1A allows for beneficiaries to live and work in the U.S. for three-year periods and is indefinitely renewable. To apply for the O-1A the beneficiary must have a valid job offer from an employer in the U.S. and said employer or agent must file the specialized visa petition on behalf of the applicant. The petitioner must additionally file Form I-129, along with a written advisory opinion letter from a peer group or labor organization that attests to the individual’s status within their given field. A written contract that evidences the job offer, along with an itinerary of events/activities/duties outlined for this position are a must.  And most importantly, the applicant must demonstrate their extraordinary abilities and achievements by satisfying a minimum number of criteria outlined by United States Customs and Immigration Services (USCIS).

In order to qualify for the O-1A visa, the applicant must have either received a major, internationally-recognized award for their work, or satisfy at least three of the following criteria:

  • Membership in association in the field
  • Receipt of national or international level award
  • Published material in professional or major trade publications, journals or media
  • Original scientific, scholarly, or business-related contributions in the field
  • Authorship of scholarly articles in professional journals or media in field
  • High salary within the given profession
  • Participation on a panel or as a judge of the work of others in the same field
  • Employment in a critical or essential capacity for organizations

The applicant can prove this criterion through a wide range of materials ranging from expert testimonial letters from contemporaries within the field, contracts or agreements, newspaper or online articles, trade journals, photographs from notable events or award ceremonies, pay stubs, or any official materials from past positions or companies. Basically, any handy materials you have that can prove any of the above criteria will be helpful for your consulting attorney, so be sure to hold onto these materials and organize them prior to getting started with your process. The easier you can make it for your attorney, the smoother your visa process will be.

Processing times usually take between 6-12 weeks, so if you are on a specific time constraint be sure to give you and your attorney enough time to work and file your application well in advance so you don’t encounter any last-minute nightmares.

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