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O1 Visa Approval Rate

What is the O1 Visa’s Approval Rate? 

Every year, somewhere between 80-95% of nonimmigrant O1 visas are approved. This approval rate is quite high among other non-immigrant visas, though the exact number of O1 visas approved each year can vary. This was especially true for 2020, when applications and approvals for all categories of nonimmigrant and immigrant visas saw a significant dip due to effects from the COVID-19 pandemic. 

For instance, in 2019, there were a total of 18,293 O1 visa applications, with only 542 being refused. In 2020, on the other hand, there were only a total of 9,270 O1 visa applications, with 432 refusals. 

Does a High Approval Rate Mean My Visa Application is More Likely to Be Approved?

Not necessarily. Individuals who are considering applying for a nonimmigrant visa should be careful with how much value they put on approval and refusal rates for any given visa. This is because approval and refusal rates do not reflect how “easy” or “difficult” it is to receive certain visas, but more so reflect the amount applicants fit the eligibility criteria for a visa when they applied, or correctly followed all application requirements.

Does the O1 Visa Have a High Approval Rate Compared to Other Visas? 

It depends. Every year, the approval rate for each type of visa can fluctuate. This can be impacted by the number of applicants for a given visa category, and particularly the number of qualified applicants who apply with appropriate documentation. Even though the O1 visa is not subject to an annual limit on the amount of visas that can be approved in a given year, fewer individuals tend to apply for the O1 visa than other nonimmigrant visa categories because it has stricter requirements. Most people simply cannot meet the “extraordinary abilities” requirement needed to qualify for the O1 visa.

For example, the L1 visa commonly receives far more applications than the O1 visa, likely because there are more individuals who believe they fit the L1 visa’s eligibility requirements at the time they apply. Nonimmigrant visa categories with less strict requirements that attract more applicants are probably more likely to attract more unqualified applicants as well as incomplete application packages. In short, the O1 visa category may tend to exhibit a higher approval rate because there are likely fewer applicants who mistakenly believe they have an “extraordinary ability” as required by the O1 visa. 

How Can I Improve My Chances of Having my O1 Visa Application Approved? 

The best way to improve your chances of successfully applying for an O1 visa is to: 

  1. Carefully read all of the eligibility requirements for the visa and ensure you meet each one before you apply; 
  2. Carefully understand all documentation and evidentiary requirements before applying, and ensure you are able to meet these requirements; and 
  3. Seek help and advice from an immigration attorney who can assist you in ensuring you meet all eligibility and evidentiary requirements, and can help you put your application package together. 

How Many O1 Visas are Issued Each Year? 

Unlike other nonimmigrant visas, there is no annual limit on the number of O1 visas issued per year. Thus, the amount of approved O1 visas issued each year depends on the number of eligible applicants who apply. However, there is a trend or typical amount of O1 visas granted each year, excluding 2020, which is an outlier due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Between 2016 and 2019, for example, the number of approved O1 visas fluctuated between under 16,000 in 2016 to over 17,500 in 2019. Between 2012 and 2015, on the other hand, the number of approved O1 visas fluctuated between just over 10,500 in 2012 and just under 14,000 in 2015. Thus, over the past 10 years or so, the annual amount of approved O1 visas has trended higher with each passing year.

Where Are Most O1 Visa Holders From? 

The country of origin for O1 visa holders is also something that can fluctuate from year to year. In 2019, the year before the COVID-19 pandemic, the regional breakdown of approved O1 visas looked like this: 

  • Africa total: 352
  • Asia total: 3,893
  • Europe total: 9,235
  • North America total: 875
  • Oceania total: 942
  • South America total: 2,450
  • No/unknown nationality: 4

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Sweta Khandelwal

Sweta completed her Masters in Law from the University of California, Los Angeles and her JD from the Faculty of Law, Delhi University in India and has been practicing law for 15+ years getting visas, green cards, and citizenship for 1000+ clients, 100+ companies across 50+ nationalities.

Sweta has been recognized as a ” Super Lawyer, Rising Star,” and as amongst the ” Top 40 under 40″ immigration attorneys in California (American Society of Legal Advocates). She is also the recipient of the Advocacy Award by the American Immigration Lawyers Association.

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