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O Visas: Extraordinary Individuals

The O nonimmigrant category is designated for individuals with extraordinary ability or achievement.

  • The O-1A category is for individuals with extraordinary ability in the sciences, education, business, or athletics. Extraordinary Ability means 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.
  • The O-1B category is for individuals with extraordinary ability in the arts, or extraordinary achievement in the motion picture or television industry. Extraordinary ability in the field of arts means distinction, or a high level of achievement evidenced by a degree of skill and recognition substantially above that ordinarily encountered in the industry. Similarly, beneficiaries in the motion picture or television industry must demonstrate skill and recognition that is outstanding, notable or leading in the field.
  • The O-2 category is for individuals who will accompany an O-1 artist or athlete to assist in a specific event or performance. The O-2s assistance must be an integral part of or essential to the O-1s work in the U.S. The O-2 worker must have critical skills and experience with the O-1 that cannot be readily performed by a U.S. worker and that are essential to the successful performance of the O-1.

To qualify for O-1 status, a beneficiary must demonstrate sustained national or international acclaim and must provide evidence that he or she is coming to the U.S. to continue working in their field of extraordinary ability.

Application Process and Required Documentation

Contrary to popular opinion, the O-1 category is not a freelance work visa and individuals cannot sponsor themselves. The category requires sponsorship by a U.S. employer or agent. An agent may be the actual employer of the beneficiary, the representative of both the employer and the beneficiary, or a person or entity authorized by the employer to act for, or in place of, the employer as its agent.

When filing a petition, an employer or agent must submit Form I-129 to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), along with the following:

  • Documentation of the beneficiary’s extraordinary ability or achievements;
  • A written advisory opinion and/or consultation from a peer group (including labor organizations);
  • Detailed itinerary with the dates and locations of work/events with an explanation of the nature of the events or activities; and
  • A copy of the contract between the petitioner and the beneficiary or summary of terms of the oral agreement under which the beneficiary will be employed.

Note that once a petition is approved by USCIS, an individual must then apply for a visa at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate abroad. To learn more about our Visa Services team here at Berardi Immigration Law, check out our Universal Visa Services page.


O-1 and O-2 nonimmigrants may be admitted to the U.S. for a validity period of up to three years. However, the period of admission authorized by USCIS is dependent on the term of employment in the United States. For example, if an individual can only demonstrate one year of upcoming work, his or her application may only be approved for that one-year period.

Extensions of stay may be granted in increments of up to three years. There is no cap on the total number of times an individual can apply for an extension of their O-1 or O-2 status.


Dependents of O-1 visa holders (spouses of and children under the age of 21) may obtain O-3 status. Dependents may not engage in employment but may attend school or college.