What are O visas?

O visas allow U.S. employers to temporarily hire nonimmigrant foreign workers who have extraordinary ability in certain fields of employment. Workers with extraordinary ability may qualify for either an O-1A or O-1B visa, depending on what field the worker’s extraordinary abilities are in. Certain individuals who wish to accompany an O-1A or O-1B visa holder in the United States may qualify for an O-2 or O-3 visa, depending on the reason they seek to accompany the primary visa holder.

What are the different types of O visas and what makes each unique?

There are four types of O visa:

  • O-1A visa: O-1A visas are available for individuals with an extraordinary ability in the sciences, education, business, or athletics. This does not include individuals with an extraordinary ability in the arts (see O-1B visas).
  • O-1B visa: O-1B visas are available for individuals with an extraordinary ability in the arts or extraordinary achievement in the motion picture or television industry.
  • O-2 visa: O-2 visas are available for individuals who will accompany a worker who qualifies for an O-1A or O-1B visa to assist the primary visa holder in a specific event or performance.
  • O-3 visa: O-3 visas are available for individuals who are the spouse or children of an O-1A, O-1B, or O-2 visa holder.

How to qualify for each type of O visa

To qualify for an O-1A or O-1B visa, you must possess “extraordinary ability.” Individuals who qualify as possessing an extraordinary ability under an O-1A or O-1B visa must stay in the United States only temporarily and must only work in the field in which they possess an extraordinary ability.

  • O-1A visa: To qualify for an O-1A visa, an individual must demonstrate a level of expertise in the fields of science, education, business, or athletics so that the individual is one of the small percentage who sit on the very top of the field. This can be shown through sustained national or international acclaim,
  • O-1B visa: To qualify for an O-1B visa, an individual must possess a record of high level achievement in the field of arts.
  • Arts Generally: In the field of arts generally, an individual can show he or she has a high level of achievement by demonstrating a degree of skill and recognition above the ordinary, so that an individual is prominent, renowned, leading, or well-known in the field of arts.
  • Motion Pictures or Television: Individuals in the motion picture or television industry must demonstrate a degree of skill and recognition significantly above that ordinarily encountered, so that an individual is recognized as outstanding, notable, or leading in the motion picture and/or television field.
  • O-2 visa: To qualify for an O-2 visa, an individual must be providing assistance to an O-1A or O-1B visa holder that is “integral” to the primary visa holder’s performance. An O-2 visa holder must also have critical skills and experience with the O-1A or O-1B visa holder that cannot be readily performed by a U.S. worker.
    • Motion Pictures or Television: An individual seeking an O-2 visa to provide assistance to a worker in the motion picture or television industry must have skills or experience with the O-1B visa holder that are not of a general nature and are critical to the O-1B visa holder’s work. Assistance is critical when there is either a pre-existing long standing working relationship between the O-1B visa holder and his or her assistant, or the assistant’s continuing participation is essential to the successful completion of the production because a significant portion of the pre- and post-production work will take place both inside and outside the United States.
  • O-3 visa: To qualify for an O-3 visa, an individual must be a spouse or an unmarried child under 21 years of age to an O-1A, O-1B, or O-2 visa holder. Under the O-3 visa, individuals can live in the United States as long as the O-1A or O-1B visa holder lives in the United States.

What is the process for obtaining an O visa?

The process for obtaining an O visa is driven by the employer of the potential employee who possesses extraordinary ability.

  • O-1A & O-1B visas:

Petition Requirement

To obtain an O-1A or O-1B visa, a U.S. employer, U.S. agent, or foreign employer through a U.S. agent must file form I-129 with the United States Citizen and Immigration Services (USCIS) on the potential employee’s behalf. The employer must include with the form I-129 the required evidence showing the potential employee’s qualifications for the O-1A or O-1B visa. The employer or agent must not file the form I-129 more than one year prior to the date the employer needs the potential employee’s services. The USCIS recommends an employer or agent file the form I-129 at least 45 days prior to the date of employment.

What must be filed with the form I-129

The employer or agent must provide to the USCIS:

  • Evidence demonstrating the potential employee’s extraordinary ability.
  • A written advisory opinion from a peer group or a person with expertise in the beneficiary’s field. O-1 applicants in motion picture or television must provide a written advisory opinion from an appropriate labor union and a management organization with expertise in the applicant’s area of ability.
    • This requirement may be waived if it can be demonstrated that an applicant in the arts is seeking readmission to perform similar services within two years of a prior application. It may also be waived if it can be demonstrated that no applicable peer group exists to provide evidence, in which case other evidence provided by the employer will be considered instead.
  • The contract between the employer and potential employee or a summary of the oral agreement under which the employee would be employed.
  • An explanation of the nature of the events or activities of employment, the start and end dates of the events or activities, and a copy of any itinerary for the events or activities.
  • O-2 visa:

Petition Requirement

To obtain an O-2 visa, an employer or agent must file the form I-129 on the applicant’s behalf, along with required evidence that complies with the form’s instructions. The employer or agent must not file the form I-129 more than one year prior to the date the employer needs the potential employee’s services. The USCIS recommends an employer or agent file the form I-129 at least 45 days prior to the date of employment.

What must be filed with the form I-129

The employer or agent must provide to the USCIS:

  • Evidence demonstrating the applicant’s current essentiality, critical skills, and experience with the O-1 employee and that the O-2 applicant has substantial experience performing the critical skills and essential support services for the O-1 visa holder.
  • A written advisory opinion from a peer group or a person with expertise in the O-1 visa holder’s field.
  • O-3 visa:

Petition Requirement

An applicant for the O-3 visa must file form DS-160. This form asks for personal information and to explain the purpose of entry into the United States. It is available and may be filled out online. After submitting the form, you will receive a confirmation code that you will need throughout the rest of the process.

Interview Requirement

After submitting the form DS-160, an applicant will receive form I-797 and must attend an interview at a U.S. embassy or consulate where an official will evaluate an applicant’s application and ask questions pertaining to why the applicant is seeking an O-3 visa, and the relationship between the O-3 applicant and the O-1 or O-2 applicant. If the O-3 applicant applies at the same time as the O-1 or O-2 applicant, both may attend the interview.

At the interview, an applicant must bring:

  • The O-1 or O-2 visa holder’s form I-797;
  • A copy of the O-1 or O-2 visa holder’s passport;
  • A copy of the O-1 or O-2 visa holder’s visa;
  • The applicant’s valid passport;
  • A photograph that conforms to U.S. visa photo requirements;
  • A copy of the DS-160 confirmation page;
  • Receipts showing the applicant paid all fees;
  • The interview confirmation letter;
  • Proof of the applicant’s relationship with the O-1 or O-2 visa holder:
    • Valid marriage certificates for a spouse;
    • Valid birth certificate for children

How much does it cost to get an O visa?

  • O-1A, O-1B, & O-2 visas: The application fee for each of the O-1A, O-1B, and O-2 visas is $460. An applicant can pay $2500 for premium processing, which expedites the application process.
  • O-3 visa: The fee to apply is $160 and is paid when the application is submitted. Other fees may apply according to and depending on the visa applicant’s home country. The fee to change of status or extension of stay is $455 with the USCIS.

If an O visa holder’s employer terminates his or her employment for any reason other than the visa holder’s voluntary resignation, the employer must pay the reasonable cost of return transportation to the visa holder’s last place of residence before entering the United States.

Can O visa holders change employers?

O-1A and O-1B visa holders who will see any material change in the terms and conditions of their employment or eligibility must have their employer or their agent file an amended form I-129 with the service center where the original petition was filed.

Professional athletes who are traded to a new team must have their new employer file a new form I-129 within 30 days. Doing so extends the athlete’s employment authorization while his or her petition process. The athlete will lose his or her employment authorization if the petition is not filed within 30 days of the trade or if the new form I-129 is denied.

How long are O visas valid?

All O visas are valid for up to three years. Extensions are available for up to one year; however, the exact length of time will be determined based on how long it will take an applicant to accomplish the event or activity for which they seek U.S. entry.

O visa holders may be in the United States 10 days prior to the beginning of their validity period, and 10 days after. O visa holders may only work during the validity period, however.

Individuals in the U.S. under an O-3 visa can only stay in the U.S. as long as the principal O-1A, O-1B, or O-2 visa holder stays in the U.S. Also, O-3 visa holders are not eligible to work in the U.S. However, O-3 visa holders may attend school while in the U.S.