O-1 Visa

The O-1 visa is a non-immigrant visa used by a small percentage of individuals who possess extraordinary ability in the arts, sciences, education or athletics (collectively O-1A), or who has demonstrated a record of extraordinary achievement in the motion picture or television industry (O-1B). Examples of people eligible for an O-1 visa include: actors, singers, scientists, professors, writers or professional athletes.

What is extraordinary ability?

How does the USCIS determine that an individual possesses "extraordinary ability"? For one thing, the individual must have sustained national or international acclaim. This means that he/she is widely recognized as being one of the very best in his/her field. With respect to the O-1A visa in the areas of science, education, business or athletics, extraordinary ability is defined as "a level of expertise indicating that the person is one of the small percentage who has risen to the very top of the field of endeavor." For O-1B visas in the field of arts, motion picture or television, the USCIS uses the term "distinction," which is "a high level of achievement in the field of the arts evidenced by a degree of skill and recognition substantially above that ordinarily encountered to the extent that a person described as prominent is renowned, leading, or well-known in the field of arts."

How do I qualify as extraordinary?

Let's be honest: most people do not qualify as extraordinary. To qualify for an O-1 visa in the movie or television industry, the individual must demonstrate extraordinary achievement "evidenced by a degree of skill and recognition significantly above that ordinarily encountered to the extent the person is recognized as outstanding, notable or leading in the motion picture and/or television field."

What proof do I need?

For an O-1A visa, the individual must have received a major, internationally recognized award, such as a Nobel Prize, or evidence of at least three of the following:

For an O-1B visa, the individual must have received, or was nominated for, significant national or international awards or prizes in the particular field, such as an Academy Award, or evidence of at least (3) three of the following:

Canadians who have qualified for an O-1 visa may also want to consider self-petitioning for an EB-1 green card. While the standard for "extraordinary" under an EB-1 is generally higher than that of an O-1 visa, it certainly does not hurt for beneficiaries of O-1 visas to explore the viability of getting a green card under the EB-1 category.

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