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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 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. 

The O-1 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 can demonstrate a proven track record of extraordinary ability in areas of 1) science, art, business, education, athletics, or 2) film and television media. To qualify for an O-1, the individual must be recognized nationally or internationally for their 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, remember 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 approving 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 can meet or exceed at least three of the following criteria:

  1. You have won a nationally or internationally recognized prize or award for excellence in your field
  2. You are a member of association(s) in your field that require outstanding achievements, as judged by national or international experts in your field 
  3. News articles or other major media have been published about you
  4. You have participated as a judge of your peers in a professional competition 
  5. You have invented something original that is majorly significant to your field
  6. You have authored scholarly articles in your field
  7. You have been employed in a critical or essential capacity at a company with a distinguished reputation 
  8. You have been paid a high salary or other remuneration for your work 

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?

The entirety of the O-1 visa application process can be narrowed down to just 5 steps:

1) Submit I-129 Form and Pay the 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:

3) Pay the O-1 Visa Fee

You’ll have to pay a fee of $190 to move forward with your visa appointment. 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 a 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:

  • I-797A Approval Notice
  • DS-160 Confirmation Page
  • Application Fee Payment Receipt
  • Valid Passport
  • Two Color, Passport-style Photographs
  • Copy of Your Petition

If you have dependents, they will also need to each bring:

  • I-797A Approval Notice
  • DS-160 Confirmation Page
  • Application Fee Payment Receipt
  • Valid Passport
  • Two Color, Passport-style Photographs
  • Marriage Certificate (for Spouse)
  • Birth Certificate (for Child)*
  • *Children ages 13 and under may not need to appear for visa stamping in person. Check with your U.S. Embassy or Consulate.

5) O-1 Visa Interview

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. 

We offer a post-approval guide that goes into steps two through five in more detail to help you understand the process. 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 innovators like you - you can read about those successes here.

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