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The O1 Visa for Nigerian Startup Founders

Whether expanding your existing Nigerian business into the U.S. or starting a new U.S. company, you’ll need to figure out the best visa option. Acquiring a U.S. work visa is often the first step to eventually getting a green card and then U.S. citizenship! In this article, we’ll describe one of the most highly sought-after U.S. work visa options for Nigerian entrepreneurs, the O-1A visa for individuals of extraordinary ability. 

Advantages of the O-1 Visa

What makes the O-1A visa such an attractive visa for working in the U.S.? Why do so many Nigerian founders choose the O-1 over other visa options? Here are some of the advantages:

  • Flexible criteria: To qualify for the O-1 visa, you simply need to meet at least three of eight criteria. You can still qualify even if a few criteria do not apply to your industry by meeting any combination of at least three of the eight criteria. We’ll go into those criteria in more detail later on in this article.
  • No minimum salary requirement: Many U.S. work visas require applicants to be paid a certain salary by their employer. When funding is limited and you’re trying to get your startup off the ground and attract the best talent, paying yourself a high salary isn’t always the top choice for founders. Thankfully, the O-1 has no salary requirement, making it a popular choice for many startup founders.   
  • Get your visa fast with premium processing: By paying an extra $2500 fee to the government, you can get your O-1 reviewed in 15 calendar days or less. As a bonus, Legalpad also offers a fast-track option for O-1 visas, which means we’ll prepare your visa in a fraction of the time a traditional immigration attorney.
  • Unlimited status extensions: The O-1 visa can be a long-term visa solution. Each O-1 is approved in three-year increments and there is a high likelihood that extensions will be approved based on USCIS's dereference policy.
  • Work for numerous employers: You can work for numerous U.S. employers on numerous O-1 visas if needed. 
  • No degree requirements: The O-1 visa does not look at your academic background. This makes the O-1 visa a good alternative for other visas, like the H-1B that aren’t a good fit for people who don’t have an advanced degree. 

O-1A Visa Criteria 

As we mentioned above, the O-1A criteria are fairly flexible. You simply need to meet three or more criteria out of a total of eight. The criteria include:

  1. Awards: You’ve won an award and/or raised venture capital. 

Nationally or internationally recognized prizes or awards for excellence in your field

You likely meet this criterion if you’ve won an award for your work in the field, such as a Stevie Award or a Forbes 30 Under 30 award.

You may meet the awards criteria if the startup you founded has won awards or grants, such as a World Economic Forum New Champions award or Africa Tech Award. If your startup has raised venture capital funding in Silicon Valley or elsewhere, that can also mean you meet the awards criterion. 

  1. Critical Employment: You’ve been a founder or critical employee of a distinguished company

Employed in a critical or essential capacity at a company with a distinguished reputation

As your company’s founder, you meet the first part of this criteria as someone who has performed in a critical capacity. You can show that your company has a distinguished reputation with any press about your company, venture capital funding, acceptance into accelerators or professional organizations, partnerships, customer contracts, and more!

You can also meet this criterion if you have previous experience in a critical role at a company that has a distinguished reputation. You don’t need to be a founder or C-suite executive to have a distinguished reputation, you just need to be able to show that your role was critical to the company’s success. 

  1. Press: You’ve been covered in major media. 

Published material about you in professional publications, major trade publications, or other major media

Are there any articles about you or your company published in news outlets like Forbes, TechCrunch, Business Insider Africa, Quartz, or The Guardian Nigeria? If yes, you probably meet this criterion!

  1. Judging: You’ve judged a competition in your field. 

Judging the work of peers in your field, either individually or on a panel

If you’ve judged a hackathon, judged applicants for an incubator or accelerator, peer-reviewed articles, or served as a judge of your peers in another capacity, you likely meet this criterion!

  1. Memberships: You’ve gone through an accelerator or belong to a professional organization that requires outstanding achievements. 

Membership in associations that require outstanding achievements, as judged by international experts

You can meet the membership criteria by participating in an accelerator program based in the U.S., Nigeria, or elsewhere. You can also meet this criterion if you’re a member of a prestigious professional association such as On Deck, Forbes Business Council, or IEEE.

  1. High Remuneration: You’ve received a high compensation package, such as a high salary, OR significant equity in a venture-backed company along with a moderately high salary.

You have commanded a high salary or other significantly high remuneration

If you’ve earned compensation that is considered high compared to others in your job title and region, you likely meet this criterion! This could include past compensation, your current compensation, or what you will be paid by your U.S. employer once your visa is approved. 

  1. Original Contributions: You’ve invented something original that has impacted your field.

Original contributions of major significance to your field

Think about any technology or business processes you’ve created throughout your career. What makes them unique? What makes them significant to your field? As a startup founder, describing the uniqueness and significance of your product or service should feel like pitching to investors. Your original contribution could also be from a previous company as well!

  1. Scholarly Articles: You’ve been an author or co-author in a peer-reviewed journal.

Authorship of scholarly articles in professional publications, major trade publications, or other major media

Have you written articles that were published by a professional publication in your field? This may include peer-reviewed articles, but it could also include articles published on business news sites like Forbes, TechCrunch, or Harvard Business Review. 

If you don’t yet meet three of these criteria, there are other ways you can strengthen your O-1 qualifications. Check out our recent guide on what to do if you’re not qualified for the O-1 yet! 

The O-1 visa process

Once you’re ready to move forward with your O-1, you should work with a qualified immigration team like Legalpad to prepare your O-1 petition. Because of the many elements of the O-1 criteria, O-1 petitions often contain hundreds of pages of evidence demonstrating your qualifications. When you work with Legalpad, we’ll guide you through which documents you’ll need to gather, and then we’ll organize them to create the final product. 

Once your O-1 visa is drafted and approved by you and your Legalpad immigration attorney, we’ll mail it into the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). If you opt for premium processing, USCIS will review your O-1 petition within 15 calendar days. From there, you will either receive an RFE or an approval! If you receive an RFE, USCIS will ask for some additional documents, which our team will help you gather.

Once your O-1 petition is approved and you have received an approval notice, you can follow our post-approval guide and get your visa stamping appointment at the U.S. consulate in Nigeria. Next stop, the U.S.!

Ready to get started?

Our immigration team has helped hundreds of startup founders like you get O-1 visas. Reach out to our immigration team to talk about your unique O-1 case. We look forward to learning about your work and helping you bring your business to the U.S.!

About the author:

Annie Blay

Content Marketing Specialist

Before joining the marketing team, Annie helped over 60 Legalpad clients navigate U.S. immigration on the client services team.