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US O-1 Visa: Requirements and Procedure

Are you an H-1B visa holder worried about losing your job and being forced to leave the U.S.? Are you looking for a way to have stability and control over your visa status? If so, an O-1 visa could be the solution you’ve been searching for.

Key Takeaways

  • The O-1 visa is a US visa category allowing individuals to live and work for up to three years at a time
  • While the O-1 visa requires that individuals be of “extraordinary ability”, it is not visa reserved solely for the rich, famous or Nobel prize-holders
  • To receive an O-1 visa it is enough to satisfy any three of the eight applicable criteria.

Unlike the H-1B visa, which ties you to a specific employer, an O-1 visa is a USA work visa that is granted to individuals with extraordinary ability in the sciences, arts, education, business, or athletics. Best of all, you control your O-1 visa, giving you the stability and peace of mind that comes with knowing your visa status won’t be impacted by an employer’s whims or a declining economy.

Some common O-1 myths and legends — dispelled

But wait, you may think, isn’t getting an O-1 visa impossible? Not at all. In fact, hundreds of people have successfully obtained an O-1 visa through an agent, and you could too.

Let’s walk through the process and dispel some common myths along the way:

Myth #1: The O-1 visa is only for famous people.

This is a common misconception arising from the high-profile individuals in the entertainment or sports industries who do sometimes hold this visa. 

In reality, the vast majority of O-1 visa holders are not household names: The key is having achieved significant recognition in your field through awards, publications, media coverage, and other forms of acclaim.

Myth #2: You need a Nobel Prize, Ph.D. or patents to get an O-1 visa.

False. Just as the O-1 visa is not the exclusive preserve for the rich and famous, nor is it a visa reserved for the next Einstein or Hawking. The O-1 visa is just as readily available to those working in industry as those in the academy. 

Myth #3: You need dozens of citations.

Wrong again. While citations can certainly help your case if you are applying based on academic recognition, they are certainly not required.

To meet the criteria for an O-1 visa, you must fulfill at least three of the eight criteria available. Let’s delve into each criterion that you should consider applying for and explore how you can approach meeting them. 

Myth 4: You need a standing job offer from a US employer.

While having a job offer from a US employer can help with your O-1 visa application, it is not a requirement. The visa is available to individuals who have an itinerary or schedule of planned activities in the US, which could include performances, lectures, or consultations.

Note, however, that if the application is not supported by a visa sponsor, the applicant must use a designated agent. Note, however, due to a rule clarification in 2016, the petitioner can be a company that the applicant themselves owns: In short, this visa category is a legitimate option for entrepreneurs as well as regular employees. 

To meet the criteria for an O-1 visa, you must fulfill at least three of the eight criteria available. Let’s delve into each criterion that you should consider applying for and explore how you can approach meeting them:

Criterion 1: Awards

To satisfy this criterion, you must demonstrate that you have received awards in your field. While this may not be the easiest criterion to fulfill, there are some shortcuts you can take. For example, if you’re a founder, you could try raising venture capital, winning a pitch competition, or receiving a tech/VC-related prize. If you work in tech, consider participating in a hackathon or receiving an industry award.

Criterion 2: Memberships 

This criterion is more flexible than it may seem. You can join any “prestigious” group, club, association, or accelerator that is relevant to your field.

Look for organizations such as:

IEEEorg | Ycombinator | Techstars | EntrepreneurOrg

Then apply to them. Make sure to choose an organization with an acceptance rate of less than 10%.

Besides becoming a member of an organization, another option is becoming a board member, or an advisory board member for a body related to your field. 

Criterion 3: Press

This criterion requires you to obtain press coverage about your work. If you don’t already have any press, consider starting a side project, creating a Git repository, or launching a mini business. Make friends with journalists and reach out to local newspapers and blogs. Alternatively, you could pay for press coverage, but be aware that this may only result in lower-quality articles from publications such as Forbes Business Council.

Criterion 4: High Salary

To meet this criterion, you must demonstrate that you have been paid in the top 10% of professionals in your position, in your region, at some point in time. If you currently don’t meet this requirement, consider moving to a region with a lower cost of living and securing a job offer there that pays accordingly.

Criterion 5: Company Reputation

This criterion requires you to demonstrate your company’s reputation by gathering press coverage about your company, showing funding from established VCs, and highlighting partnerships with big organizations or well-known customers. Think about how you would brag about your company’s accomplishments and showcase them in your application.

Criterion 6: Panel membership

This requirement means proof that an individual has been on a panel, or individually, as a judge of the work of others in the same or in a related field of specialization. 

Ask professional associations and conferences in your field if you can participate in an upcoming panel or competion: In many cases, organizers are desperate for volunteers. 

Criterion 7: Significant contributions

This means showing original scientific, scholarly, or business-related contributions that are of major significance in the field. While patents could come in handy here, this is an extremely flexible criterion. Mentorship or volunteering for leadership positions in your field could be useful ways of meeting this requirement. 

Criterion 8: Article authorship

This means evidence of the individual’s authorship of scholarly articles in the field, or in professional journals, or as showcased in major media. As with the press coverage requirement, it is often possible to volunteer yourself for coverage as an expert in the media: Many newspapers and publications seek not just input but op-eds from industry professionals to offer their expertise to the public. 

The USA O-1 visa — challenging, but far from impossible

In conclusion, meeting the criteria for an O-1 visa can be a challenging but rewarding process for professionals seeking to work in the United States. While it may seem daunting to meet at least three of the eight criteria, there are various ways to approach each one, as outlined in this post.

From winning awards and joining prestigious groups to garnering press attention and showcasing high salaries and company accomplishments, there are multiple paths to demonstrating your extraordinary ability in your field. With careful planning and persistence, you can increase your chances of obtaining the O-1 visa and pursuing your career goals in the US.


No. A green card allows an individual to live and work permanently/indefinitely in the US. By contrast, the O-1 visa is a temporary visa status available for up to three years at a time. 

While that is the usual situation, it is not a requirement. The O-1 visa needs a petitioner who can either be the sponsoring employer or, an O-1 visa agent. Note also that while individuals cannot apply on behalf of themselves, a company that that an individual owns is allowed to apply on their behalf.