Short-term employment visas are available to certain foreign-born people doing specialized work in the U.S., including the O-1 visa for outstanding workers in the sciences, arts, athletics, education, or business. (See the Immigration and Nationality Act at I.N.A. § 101(a) (15)(O); 8 U.S.C. § 1101(a)(15)(O), or the Code of Federal Regulations at 8 C.F.R. § 214.2(o)(1)(ii)(A)(1).)
A job offer from a U.S. employer is a basic requirement for the O-1 visa. There is no annual limit on the number of people who can receive O-1 visas.
Literally speaking, a "visa" is a U.S. entry document. Once in the U.S., you will be in "O-1 status." Or, if you are already in the U.S. legally, it's possible to apply for O-1 status without first getting an entry visa. But in that case, if you ever travel out of the U.S. while in O-1 status, you'll need to make a stop at a U.S. consulate to obtain an actual O-1 visa for reentry.
Some of the advantages and disadvantages of the O-1 visa or status include:
O-1 visas are available to people who have not only a job offer in the U.S., but have proven extraordinary ability in the sciences, arts, education, business, or athletics. What does it mean to be considered a person of extraordinary ability? See below for the details.
Broadly speaking, the person must have received national or international acclaim in a particular field, or, if working in motion pictures or television productions, have a demonstrated record of extraordinary achievement.
O-1 visas can be given only on the basis of a person's individual qualifications. Being a member of a group or team will not, by itself, qualify someone for an O-1 visa.
In addition, the person must be coming to the U.S. work or perform at an event or a series of events in the area of extraordinary ability. The term "event" is interpreted liberally outside the fields of athletics and arts and can include, for example, an ongoing research project for a private company.
To meet the O-1 visa standards, the applicant must be able to show extraordinary ability and receipt of sustained national or international acclaim for it. This can be demonstrated if the person has gotten a major internationally recognized award, such as an Olympic medal or a Pulitzer Prize, or has accomplished at least three of the following:
If the above criteria do not readily apply to the applicant's occupation, the company filing the immigration petition may submit comparable evidence to show how "extraordinary" the person really is. The company should take care to explain exactly why the above criteria do not apply to the applicant.
When applying as an O-1 alien of extraordinary ability in the arts, applicants should start by making sure their work fits the immigration law's definition of art. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) regulations define art broadly, to include:
. . . any field of creative activity or endeavor such as, but not limited to, fine arts, visual arts, culinary arts, and performing arts. Aliens engaged in the field of arts include not only the principal creators and performers but other essential persons such as, but not limited to, directors, set designers, lighting designers, sound designers, choreographers, choreologists, conductors, orchestrators, coaches, arrangers, musical supervisors, costume designers, makeup artists, flight masters, stage technicians, and animal trainers.
(See 8 C.F.R. § 214.2(o)(3)(ii).)
Applicants must also be coming to the U.S. to perform in the area of extraordinary ability. They must be recognized as prominent in the field of endeavor. To demonstrate such recognition, applicants will need to supply documents showing that they have been nominated for or have received significant national or international awards or prizes in the particular field, such as an Oscar, Emmy, Grammy, or Director's Guild Award. Alternately, employers filing a petition can submit at least three of the following forms of documentation:
If the above criteria do not lend themselves to the person's occupation and situation, the petitioning employer may submit alternative but comparable evidence in order to establish eligibility.
For details about what to expect and do during the O visa application process, see U.S. Immigration Made Easy, by Ilona Bray (Nolo).
You might also wish to consult an immigration attorney for a full personal analysis of your eligibility and for help with the application process. Nolo's Lawyer Directory can help you find an expert attorney who fits your needs. Look in particular for an attorney with expertise in business immigration law (even immigration law has many subspecialties within it).