O-1A Extraordinary Ability Nonimmigrant Visa

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O-1A Extraordinary Ability Nonimmigrant Visa

O-1A Extraordinary Ability Nonimmigrant Visa Classification

The O-1A nonimmigrant visa classification is reserved for foreigners with extraordinary abilities in education, sciences, athletics, and business. Your extraordinary ability in your field is demonstrated by sustained international or national acclaim and recognition.

To qualify for an O-1A, you must intend to come to the United States to work in your area of expertise, which may include working for an entity you own. According to USCIS, extraordinary ability means having expertise only possessed by a small percentage of people who have risen to the very top of your field.

Requirement 1: A U.S Agent or Employer Must File the Petition on your Behalf

According to USCIS regulations, the petitioner may be either a U.S. agent or employer (who may be the representative of both the beneficiary and employer, the actual employer of the beneficiary, or an entity or person authorized by the employer to act for the employer as its agent).

Although an O-1A beneficiary cannot self-petition, a separate legal entity owned by the beneficiary may file the petition.

Requirement 2: You Must Be Able To Establish That You Have Extraordinary Ability in Your Field of Expertise

To qualify for this visa classification, you must prove that you are part of a small percentage of people at the very top of your field of expertise, whether in the sciences, athletics, business, or education.

Closely related to this requirement, you must show that you are coming to the U.S. to continue working in that field of expertise.

To establish your eligibility, you must submit compelling evidence that you either hold a major, internationally recognized award or submit evidence that satisfies at least three of the eight evidentiary criteria discussed below:

O-1A Evidentiary Criteria and Relevant Examples and Considerations

1. Documentation of the beneficiary’s receipt of internationally or nationally recognized awards or prizes for excellence in the field of expertise

Relevant examples:
  • Certain doctoral dissertation awards and PhD scholarships
  • Awards from well-known professional associations and national institutions
  • Certain awards recognizing presentations at internationally or nationally recognized conferences
Relevant Considerations:

Although most scholastic awards don’t have the requisite level of recognition, there are dissertation awards and PhD scholarships, for instance, that are internationally or nationally recognized as awards for excellence. Such dissertation awards and PhD scholarships may satisfy the requirements for this criterion.

Other relevant considerations include, but are not limited to:

  • The number of awardees or prize recipients;
  • The criteria used to grant the prizes or awards;
  • The international or national significance of the prizes or awards in the field; and
  • Limitations on eligible competitors

For instance, an award only available to persons within one locality, school, or employer may have little national or international recognition. However, an award open to members of a well-recognized professional association or national institution may be nationally recognized.

2. Documentation of the beneficiary’s membership in professional associations in the field for which the O-1A is sought, which requires outstanding achievements of their members, as judged by international or national experts in their disciplines or fields

Relevant Examples:
  • Fellowship within certain institutions or organizations
  • Membership in specific professional associations
Relevant Considerations:

The petitioner must demonstrate that membership in the professional association requires outstanding achievements in the field for which an O-1A is sought, as judged by recognized international or national experts.

Some professional associations have multiple levels of membership. Therefore, the petitioners must illustrate that to obtain your membership level, you were judged by recognized international or national experts as having achieved outstanding achievements in your field of expertise.

For example, membership in the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE) at the IEEE fellow level requires that a nominee have accomplishments that have contributed significantly to the advancement or application of engineering, science & technology, bringing the realization of significant value to society. Nominations are normally judged by a committee of current IEEE fellows and an IEEE council of experts.

Factors that can lead to a conclusion that your membership in an association is not based on outstanding achievements in the relevant field include, but are not limited to, instances where your membership was based:

  • Solely on the payment of a membership fee or by subscribing to the association’s publication;
  • Solely on a level of education or years of experience in the relevant field; or
  • A requirement, compulsory or otherwise, for employment in specific occupations, such as union membership.

3. Published material in a major trade, professional publications, or major media about you (beneficiary) and relating to your work in the relevant field of expertise.

This evidence must include a title, author, date, and translation where necessary.

Relevant Examples:
  • Transcript of professional or major video or audio coverage of your work.
  • Professional or major print publications (popular academic journals, books, newspaper articles, textbooks, or similar publications) about your work.
  • Professional or major online publications about your work
Relevant Considerations:

Published material that only includes a passing reference to your work or a brief citation does not qualify as “about” you or relating to your work in the field as required under this criterion.

However, that does not mean that “about your work” has to be the only subject of the material; published material that covers a broader topic but still includes a substantial discussion about your work in the field and mentions your connection to the work may still qualify as sufficient “about” you (the beneficiary).

The USCIS officers may also opt to consider material that primarily focuses on work or research conducted by a team of which you are a member. However, the material must mention you in connection with the work or other evidence in record documents showing your significant role in the work or research.

In evaluating whether the submitted publication is a major trade publication, professional publication, or major media, the relevant factors include:

  1. The intended audience (for major trade or professional publications); and
  2. The relative circulation, readership, or viewership (for major trade publications and other major media)

4. Evidence of your participation on a panel, either individually or as a judge of the works of others in the same or allied fields of specialization

Relevant Examples:
  • Member of doctoral dissertation committees
  • Peer reviewer for scholarly publications
  • Peer reviewer for government research funding programs
  • Reviewer of abstracts or papers submitted for publication and presentation at scholarly conferences
Relevant Considerations:

The petitioner must prove that you (the beneficiary) have not only been invited to judge the work of others but also that you actually participated in judging the works of others in your field or allied fields of specialization.

For instance, the petitioner may document your peer review work by submitting a copy of a request from a journal to conduct the review, accompanied by evidence confirming your participation in the review.

5. Evidence of your original scholarly, scientific, or business-related contribution of major significance in the relevant field

Relevant Examples:

  • Letters, testimonials, and affidavits about your original work.
  • Published material about the significance of your original work.
  • Patents or licenses deriving from your work or evidence of commercial use of your work.
  • Documentation that your original work was cited at a level indicative of major significance in your field.

Relevant Considerations:

Eligibility analysis under this criterion primarily focuses on whether your original work significantly contributes to your field of expertise.

Evidence that your work was published, funded, or patented, while potentially demonstrating the work’s originality, will not necessarily, on its own, establish that it is of major significance to the relevant field.

However, published research that has provoked considerably widespread commentary on its importance or significance from others working in your field, and documentation that it has been highly cited relative to other works, may be probative of the significance of your contribution to your field of expertise.

Similarly, evidence that you have developed a patentable technology that has attracted significant commercialization or attention may also establish the significance of your original contribution to the field. If your patent remains pending, USCIS will likely request additional supporting evidence to demonstrate the originality of your contribution.

Detailed letters from field experts explaining the nature and significance of your contribution may also provide valuable context for evaluating your claimed original contribution of major significance. This is particularly true when the record includes documentation corroborating your claimed significance.

All submitted letters must specifically describe your contribution and its significance to the field. They must also set the basis for the writer’s knowledge and expertise.

6. Evidence of your authorship of scholarly articles in your field of endeavor, in professional journals, or other major media

Relevant Examples:
  • Published conference presentations at internationally or nationally recognized conferences.
  • Publications in professionally-relevant journals.
Relevant Considerations:

To qualify under this criterion, you must be a listed author of the submitted works but need not be the first or sole author. Additionally, the petitioner need not adduce evidence that your published work has been cited to meet this criterion.

The articles must be scholarly. In the academic field, a scholarly article reports on experimentation, original research, or philosophical discourse. It must also be written by an expert or researcher in the field. In addition, the article must be peer-reviewed.

Other requirements are that it must have footnotes, endnotes, or a bibliography and may contain charts, graphs, pictures, or videos as illustrations of the concepts expressed in the paper.

In non-academic fields, scholarly articles must be written addressing learned persons in that field.

In evaluating whether a submitted article is a major trade publication, professional publication, or major media, relevant factors include:

  1. The intended audience (for major trade and professional publications; and
  2. The circulation, viewership, or readership relative to other media in the field (for major media and major trade publications).

7. Evidence that you have been employed in an essential or critical capacity for establishments and organizations with a distinguished reputation

Relevant Examples:
  • Member of a key committee within a distinguished organization.
  • Senior research or senior faculty position for a distinguished organization.
  • Named or principal investigator for an institution, department, or business that has received a merit-based government award such as a Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) or academic research grant.
  • Senior research position for a distinguished non-academic company or institution.
  • Essential or critical supporting role for a distinguished institution or a distinguished division of an organization, as explained in great detail by a principal investigator or the director of the relevant institution or division.
  • Founder or co-founder of, or contributor of intellectual property to, a start-up business with a distinguished reputation.
Relevant Consideration:

To demonstrate that you played a critical role in the organization, the submitted evidence must establish that you have contributed in a manner that is significant to the organization or its activities. To demonstrate an essential role, the evidence must show that your role is/was integral to the organization. A leadership role in an organization often qualifies as essential or critical.

For supporting roles to qualify as essential or critical, USCIS considers additional factors such as whether your performance in the role is/was integral or important to the entity or its goals or activities, especially in relation to others in parallel positions within the organization.

It is also worth noting that it is not your role but rather your duties and performance in the role that determine whether the role is/was essential or critical. Detailed letters from individuals with personal knowledge of the significance of your role can be helpful in analyzing this criterion. Additionally, the organization need not have employed you directly.

The organization must also be one with a distinguished reputation. The relevant factors for evaluating the organization’s reputation can include the scale of its customer base, relevant media coverage, or longevity.

For academic institutions, departments, and programs, USCIS officers may also consider national rankings and receipt of government research grants as positive factors when analyzing this criterion.

For start-up entities, USCIS officers may consider evidence that the entity has received significant funding from venture capital funds, government entities, angel investors, or such funders commensurate with funding rounds generally achieved for the start-up’s stage and industry as a positive factor concerning its distinguished reputation.

8. Evidence that you have either commanded a high salary or will command a high salary or other remuneration for services as evidenced by contract documents or other reliable evidence

Relevant Examples:
  • Job offer, contract, or other evidence of prospective salary or remuneration for services.
  • Pay statements, tax returns, or other evidence of past salary or remuneration for services.
  • Comparative wage or remuneration data for your field, such as position or geographical-appropriate compensation survey.
Relevant Considerations:

If the petitioner avers meeting this criterion, the burden of proof is with the petitioner. They must adduce appropriate evidence demonstrating that your compensation is high relative to other persons working in parallel positions in the field.

USCIS officers evaluate persons working outside the U.S. on the wage statistic or comparable evidence for that geographical locality rather than by simply converting the salary to USD and then considering whether it would be considered high in the U.S.

For founders or entrepreneurs of start-up businesses, USCIS officers consider evidence that the start-up has received significant funding from venture capital funds, government entities, angel investors, or other such funders in evaluating the credibility of submitted job offers, contracts, or other relevant evidence of prospective salary or remuneration for services.

Important Note: 

If any of the abovementioned criteria do not readily apply to your occupation, the petitioner may submit comparable evidence to establish your eligibility. When the required evidence has been adduced, USCIS will evaluate the evidence in totality to determine eligibility. Visit the USCIS Policy Manual for more guidance on the use of comparable evidence to establish eligibility and how USCIS evaluate the totality of the evidence for an O-1A petition.

Requirement 3: You Must Show That You Will Continue Working in Your Field of Expertise

To qualify for an O-1A visa, you must submit copies of written contracts or agreements between you and your petitioner/entity. Where there are no written contracts, you may submit a summary of the terms of the oral contract under which you will be employed.

Additionally, you must submit an explanation of the nature of the activities or events, which may include your employment in the U.S.

Requirement 4: You Must Obtain An Advisory Opinion from An Appropriate Peer Group

A person or group with experience in your field must write an advisory opinion regarding the nature of your work and qualifications. The opinion must describe your ability and achievements in the field.

For more information about how O-1A eligibility is evaluated, visit the USCIS Policy Manual.

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