The temporary O-1 visa vs the EB-1A green card

You don’t need to have an Oscar or Nobel Prize sitting on your shelf to immigrate through an “extraordinary ability” stream! 

People who wish to enter the United States via the nonimmigrant O-1 visa or the EB-1A green card program – two “foreign extraordinary worker” streams – must demonstrate expertise, extraordinary ability, acclaim, or achievement in a specialized field. Put simply, you don’t need to be a celebrity, but you do need to be at the top of your field and have received international acclaim.

Both the O-1 and EB-1A are available to professionals in arts, sciences, business, athletics, film, or television. It’s simply a matter of whether the applicant plans to settle temporarily or permanently.

What is the O-1 visa?

This nonimmigrant visa is for foreign nationals looking to enter the United States for a given project, contract, or performance. They are typically valid for between one and three years at a maximum, depending on the length of the pre-arranged engagement in the U.S. After the initial visa period is up, the O-1 can be renewed on an annual basis.

The O-1 classification includes two sub-categories, both of which require an employer or agent to sponsor the applicant:

O-1A visas are for professionals in science, athletics, business, or education.

O-1B visas are for professionals in the arts (including fashion models, painters, chefs, designers, etc.), television, theatre, and film industries.

Sometimes, artists or athletes depend on support personnel to perform their craft. Such support personnel may be eligible for an O-2 visa. Spouses and/or children of O-1 and O-2 visa holders can obtain an O-3 visa, which allows them to study in the U.S. but not work.

Notable O-1 visa recipients

Remember – you don’t need to be a celebrity to qualify for an O-1! Nevertheless, you may recognize many names that have successfully obtained this type of nonimmigrant U.S. visa:

  • Justin Bieber, musician

  • Adele, musician 

  • Benedict Cumberbatch, actor

  • Alesso, DJ

  • Cate Blanchett, actor

  • Hugh Jackman, actor

What is the EB-1A visa?

This visa is similar to the O-1 in terms of eligibility – however, the vetting process is more stringent, since the EB-1 is a path to citizenship (via permanent residency). It also allows applicants to self-petition if they so choose, as opposed to requiring sponsorship from an employer.

EB-1A visas are for professionals in science, business, education, or the arts.

Can EB-1A visa holders bring dependents with them?

Yes. When an EB-1 applicant’s green card is approved, their spouses and dependents (i.e. children under 21 years of age) will also be given their respective green cards.

O-1 and EB-1 eligibility requirements

Eligibility requirements for these visa categories toe the line between concrete and abstract, given that “extraordinary ability” is a somewhat subjective concept, unless you have earned a Nobel Prize, an Oscar, or an Olympic medal. As mentioned above, EB-1A requirements are stricter than O-1, but it can be tough to determine what that means on your own. 

Foreign nationals who wish to enter the U.S. via these streams are particularly strong candidates for immigration support, given the relative vagueness of the eligibility criteria.The general guideline is that applicants must fulfill at least three of the following criteria:

  • Have received national/international awards for excellence in their field.
  • Be a member of one or more prestigious associations that require outstanding achievement, as appointed by fellow experts in their domain.
  • Have their work featured in mainstream or industry-leading publications/media.
  • Have written articles for professional or industry-leading publications/media.
  • Have served as a judge of their peers, either as an individual or a member of a panel.
  • Have made significant and original contributions within their field of expertise (i.e. science, business, athletics, or academics). 
  • Earn a high salary relative to what is common in their industry, indicating their notable expertise.
  • Have either led or played a crucial leadership role in a prestigious industry organization or company.
  • Have your work exhibited or displayed at artistic exhibitions.
  • Have garnered commercial successes in the performing arts.

Don’t leave your success up to chance: consult with an experienced immigration attorney at Exeo to ensure your application is complete, accurate, and compelling.

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