Extraordinary Ability? How to be approved quickly for a US visa

Getting a work visa through employment is tough these days. Ask anyone in any industry. If you are a highly skilled foreign professional, athlete, or artist – who is not currently seeking a job change – you may want to consider applying for an “extraordinary ability” visa to get into the United States.

This visa can allow you — and your spouse/minor child(ren) —  as well as your assistants or essential trainers etc.  (and their immediate families) into the United States in as little as 15 days.

While this visa category is reserved for those foreign nationals with top credentials, these visas are immediately available – there is no backlog for almost any country. Just as importantly individuals can self-petition – they do not need an offer of employment.

Moreover, these cases can be processed under “premium processing.” For an additional $2500 filing fee, USCIS will adjudicate the case within 15 calendar days.

What are the categories for Extraordinary Ability?

There are two different petitions for those who are extraordinary at what they do, and they are slightly different.

There is the EB-1A petition and the O-1 visa.

Both cases are for immigrants with extraordinary abilities that are recognized in the fields of art, science, athletics or business.

Both petitions have a quick turnaround, in as little as 15 days, and both can be moved forward quickly with premium processing.

What are the differences between the O-1 Visa & the EB-1A?

The main differences between the two visas for extraordinary ability are:

1. The duration of time granted to the immigrant to remain in the US. The O-1 visa only allows temporary residency in the country, while the EB-1A provides a path to permanent residence (green card).

2. The EB-1A allows applicants to  “self-petition,” meaning they do not need an employer to sponsor them. All O-1 visas require sponsors.

3. EB-1As include green cards for spouses and dependents.  To qualify as dependents, children must be under 21 years of age. O1 visa holders must apply for O-3 visas for their families.

What is an EB-1A?

The EB-1A is not a green card, but it is a petition that allows foreign workers with with extraordinary achievements in science, business, education, and art or sports to fast track to a green card.

In order to qualify for an EB-1A visa you need evidence of a one-time achievement (major internationally-recognized award) or 3 of the 10 listed criteria below:

  • Evidence of receipt of lesser nationally or internationally recognized prizes or awards for excellence
  • Evidence of your membership in associations in the field which demand outstanding achievement of their members
  • Evidence of published material about you in professional or major trade publications or other major media
  • Evidence that you have been asked to judge the work of others, either individually or on a panel
  • Evidence of your original scientific, scholarly, artistic, athletic, or business-related contributions of major significance to the field
  • Evidence of your authorship of scholarly articles in professional or major trade publications or other major media
  • Evidence that your work has been displayed at artistic exhibitions or showcases
  • Evidence of your performance of a leading or critical role in distinguished organizations
  • Evidence that you command a high salary or other significantly high remuneration in relation to others in the field
  • Evidence of your commercial successes in the performing arts

What is the O-1 Visa for Extraordinary Ability?

The O-1 Visa for extraordinary ability is a special visa that allows highly skilled foreign immigrants to have fast easy entry into the United States. There are four different classifications in the O-1 Visa:

O-1A: this is for people who have demonstrated extraordinary ability in the sciences, education, business, or athletics

O-1B: for people who have demonstrated extraordinary ability in arts, motion pictures or television industry

O-2: for any essential personnel, assistants, trainers etc…For those applying in the arts, this would be for anyone who was essential to the production of said art.

O-3: For the spouses and children of the first three categories.

What is considered an Extraordinary Ability?

Unless my client has a Nobel, Oscar or Olympic Gold Medal lying around, they’d better have at least 3 of the following things to get an O-1 visa:

  1. Nationally or internationally recognized prizes or awards for excellence in her field
  2. Membership in associations which require outstanding achievements, as judged by experts
  3. Published material in professional or major trade media about my client and her work
  4. Original contributions of major significance
  5. Authorship of scholarly articles in professional or major media in her field
  6. High salary as compared to her peers
  7. Participation as a judge of the work of others in her field; and/or
  8. Employment in a critical or essential capacity for organizations and establishments that have a distinguished reputation.

Look at that list. 4 and 5 are kind of the same thing.  6 and 8 generally go together.  So do 1 and 3.


Because you need at least 3 out of 8 (or in case of EB-1A, 3 out of 10) ?

Does Immigration truly want my client to have more than three?

The answer is not found in some formula that immigration attorneys all keep in the visa laboratory.  Each case must be evaluated on its own merits.

For business-based O-1’s, the slamdunk has to be work on a major, original  project. Something that nobody else is doing and that people are buying.  Lots of people.

If you are reading this and think you might have an O-1 visa up your sleeve, but your efforts have not yet yielded a big return, reread that list.

Don’t abandon the notion that you might have a potential O-1.  Sit down and make a list of everything that you’ve ever done that makes you proud, each achievement that you think is art, even if it has nothing to do with your current business.  Then call an immigration lawyer.

But not just any immigration attorney. Call one who would also meet the criteria for an O-1.