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How to Apply For an O-1 Visa

At Legalpad, we often work alongside startup founders who need help discovering what different types of work visas are available to them, and which ones are the best fit for their specific goals and individual immigration cases. By pairing smart people with smart technology, we not only help you navigate the complex terrain of the U.S. immigration system - we help you choose the right path forward, working with you until you hear the two most important words: “you’re approved.”


What is the O-1 Visa?

One of the most frequent questions we hear from our clients when we first sit down with them and discuss their immigration status is “what is an O-1 visa?” Startup founders often pose this question in our free consultations simply because this visa program comes with a certain degree of notoriety. It is one of the most well known work visas in the U.S. - notable for its high approval rate, which rose to 91.4% in 2021. In essence, the O-1 visa is for any person who is able to demonstrate a proven track record of extraordinary ability in areas of science, art, business, education, athletics or film and television media, and have been recognized nationally or internationally for those achievements.


Who is Eligible for the O-1 Visa?

Now, as you start to consider if this visa is the right way forward for you, keep in mind that certain O-1 visa criteria do exist that will determine either the approval or rejection of every individual case. So, who is eligible for the O-1 visa? As outlined above, the primary determining factor in the approval of an O-1 visa is the applicant’s ability to prove their “extraordinary ability.” To prove your extraordinary ability, you must be able to show that you have earned recognition or award - at the caliber of an Olympic Medal or Nobel prize - or that you are able to meet or exceed at least three of the following criteria:

  • Won a nationally or internationally recognized prize or award for excellence in your specialty.
  • Member of an esteemed association within your specialty, wherein membership itself requires proof of outstanding achievement.
  • Original scientific, scholarly, artistic, athletic or business-related contributions of major significance in your specialty.
  • Authorship of scholarly articles in your specialty, as published in professional or major trade publications, or in other major media.
  • You have been covered in major media.
  • You’ve judged a competition in your field.

If the O-1 visa criteria listed above don’t quite fit or apply to your specific career or specialty, we recommend consulting with an immigration attorney about what comparable evidence you should submit along with your application.


How to apply for an O-1 visa?

In a nutshell, the entirety of the O-1 visa application process can be narrowed down to just 5 steps:

1-Submit I-129 Form and Pay Application Fee

Complete and file form I-129 and provide all the necessary documentation that it requires. The fee for initiating the O-1 visa process is $460. Once you finish filling out the I-129, you can then submit it to any one of the United States Citizen & Immigration Services (USCIS) offices between one year before, or up to 45 days before, the start date of your project or employment.


2-File form DS-160

Upon approval of your I-129 petition, the very next form you need to fill out and submit is titled DS-160. This is your Online Nonimmigrant Visa Application form, and you can find it online at the CEAC (Consular Electronic Application Center) webpage on the State Department website: https://ceac.state.gov/genniv/


3-Pay the O-1 Visa Fee

Since the O-1 visa is petition-based, the application fee is $190 and can be paid online or through a bank. You will need your receipt for the visa appointment, so be sure to save it and set it aside with your other required documentation.


4-Schedule Interview and Prepare Documentation

After you finish completing form DS-160 - and then submit it and pay the associated fee - you will then need to schedule an appointment at the U.S. Embassy. In advance of your scheduled interview, be sure to have all necessary documentation in order so that you’re ready to take it with you to your interview. The documentation you will need is as follows:

  • A written consultation from an expert in your field.
  • A copy of your written work contract.
  • A document outlining and explaining all key activities and events that you will be participating in.
  • Proof of your extraordinary abilities or achievements.

Additionally, when you appear at the American Embassy for your appointment and interview, you should also have these additional items on hand:

  • A valid passport.
  • The confirmation page for your DS-160 application form.
  • Your interview appointment letter.
  • A picture of yourself that meets all the requirements of the State Department.
  • Your I-797 Approval Notice from the USCIS.
  • Proof that you have paid the Machine Readable Visa (MRC) fee.



Upon arriving for your interview, all of the documentation you prepared will be submitted before you begin your appointment with the visa officer. They will ask fairly standard questions, wanting to know all they can about your qualifications, the length and breadth of your experience, what higher education you’ve accomplished and why you believe that working in the U.S. is a necessary step for the growth of your business and the advancement of your career. The interview is arguably the most important step of this process - so we recommend you spend a bit of time preparing your mind and your responses for this crucial step. After your interview is over, you will have to wait for the processing of your visa to finish; so feedback regarding your approval will most likely not be immediate. That said, the turnaround time on approvals for O-1 visas is one of the fastest in the U.S. Immigration system - so you should hear back in a relatively short period of time. For faster processing, you have the option of paying for premium processing. Premium processing allows eligible cases to receive a decision from USCIS within 15 days of filing, unless the government requests additional information or documentation.


If you still have questions about any of the U.S. O-1 visa requirements, reach out to us. We’ll get you where you want to be. We’ve obtained visas for hundreds of startup founders since we began - you can read about those successes here.