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What is “Original Contribution” for the O-1A?

The O-1A is a U.S. work-authorized status for people with extraordinary ability in sciences, education, business, or athletics. In order to qualify as an O-1A “Alien of Extraordinary Ability”, you must have received an internationally-recognized award, such as a Nobel Prize, or meet at least three of the below criteria (paraphrased to avoid legal jargon):

  1. Receipt of nationally or internationally recognized prizes or awards in the field
  2. Membership in associations that require outstanding achievements
  3. Media coverage, either in professional/major trade publications or media, about you
  4. Original scientific, scholarly, or business-related contributions of major significance in the field
  5. Authorship of scholarly articles in professional journals or other major media in the field
  6. A high salary or other remuneration for services
  7. Judged of the work of others in the field
  8. Employment in a critical or essential capacity for organizations of distinguished reputation

For this article, let’s dig deeper into the criterion #4 for Original scientific, scholarly, or business-related contributions of major significance in the field”. Often, this is an underutilized criterion because it feels like such a high standard. We can break it down into simple parts.

What are “original contributions”?

An original contribution is something you have done that is new and unique. For example, if you are a technology startup founder, the original contribution could be that you created a groundbreaking new app for 3D virtual dating. If you have a startup, think about the pitch that you’ve used for investors as to why your startup is unique. What is your startup trying to solve, and how is your startup different than other startups already in existence?

Another example of original contribution could be a scientist who has completed research on anything from toddler nutrition, to drone surveillance, to artificial intelligence. Any of these topics may qualify as an original contribution if you can show what you did, how you did it and, most importantly, why the research is original. The work must be groundbreaking or innovative in some way.

Most research work is original, because it is not a total regurgitation of research already in existence. Building on existing research is acceptable. For example, you may not have invented machine learning, but your research is innovative because it uses machine learning technology to optimize an online customer’s food delivery preferences.

What is “of major significance”?

Your original contribution also must be of major significance to the field. Why is the contribution important? For example, if you are a startup founder that created an app, the app is of major significance because it has been downloaded 500,000 times throughout the world, and the app ranked as one of the top apps for its category. Is your contribution a trailblazing innovation that could be used internationally, or replicated by others?

Other examples of major significance would be a Data Scientist who has done research on optimizing medical supplies based on demand, or an executive-level employee who worked on a large corporate acquisition. Why is this work important? What are real-world implications of this work? How does the work impact the every-day consumer, industry, or field as a whole? For instance, the Data Scientist’s work is of major significance because it was a groundbreaking method to quickly gather medical supply data, which can significantly optimize data processing across the industry. The corporate acquisition the executive worked on may be of major significance because it was one of the largest acquisitions in South America, and resulted in the creation of 300 jobs.

How do you prove this criterion?

You can document that you have made original contributions of major significance by obtaining recommendation letters from experts in the field who can talk about your contribution: what you did, how you did it, and why it is important. If your work has been implemented, you can supplement with a host of documentation, such as: contracts from customers using your product, blueprints of your work, screenshots of your app, and data on the number of customers.

If you have an approved or pending patent, this could also be strong evidence of original contribution. The government does not approve a patent unless your invention is novel. You can provide a copy of the approved or filed patent, with an explanation of what problem the patent was trying to solve, how you solved a problem, and the impact of the patent.


The takeaway is that you are passionate about your work. You are doing your work for a reason, because you think the work solves a problem and that the work is important. Legalpad can help you tell your story within the “original contribution of major significance” criterion for O-1A eligibility, by helping you create a narrative and document what you did, how you did it, and why your work is important.


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About the author:

Nate Lozier