To obtain an O-1 visa, you must meet at least three of the eight "extraordinary ability" criteria.
The O-1A Visa Overview
The O-1A visa is a work visa that allows foreign nationals to work in the United States temporarily.
To qualify for an O-1A visa, you must:
- Have received a major internationally recognized award such as a Nobel Prize or Olympic Medal.
- Meet three out of eight criteria Extraordinary Ability criteria:
One of those eight criteria is the "Membership" criterion.
What is the Membership criterion?
Let's start with the official wording in U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services' (USCIS) policy manual describing the Membership criterion:
“Documentation of the beneficiary's membership in associations in the field for which classification is sought, which require outstanding achievements of their members, as judged by recognized national or international experts in their disciplines or fields.”
In other words, you need to be a member of at least one organization that:
- Is in your field or discipline
- Requires outstanding achievements; and
- Your outstanding achievements are judged by national or international experts in your field
What is my field?
The O-1 visa category is intended for foreign nationals at the top of their field. One way to show that you are top of your field is by being admitted into relevant elite organizations.
When you apply for an O-1 visa, you’ll have to designate what your field is. You’ll want to make sure the field is specific enough to show you are an expert, but also broad enough that all your O-1 criteria relate to your field.
For example, many startup founders designate their field as “technology entrepreneurship,” whereas some founders choose a more specific field like “mechanical engineering.”
If you work with a full-service legal team like Legalpad, your immigration attorney will help you define your field.
What does USCIS mean by outstanding achievements?
USCIS wants to know that the association(s) you joined are selective. To show that your membership requires outstanding achievements in your O-1 petition, you could collect documentation like:
- The membership organization’s bylaws (if they include membership criteria)
- Membership criteria on the organization’s website or other promotional materials
- Proof that the organization is very selective (under 5% acceptance rate)
- A signed letter from the organization describing the selection criteria, process, and/or acceptance rate (if you work with Legalpad, we’ll draft this letter for you!)
I’m a startup founder. Does joining an accelerator organization satisfy the Membership criterion?
Often, yes. If you are a startup founder, you may be able to use your accelerator program as a membership. Accelerators work as memberships when they are highly selective (5% acceptance rate or less) and when acceptance is determined by a team of business experts.
What are the other O-1 criteria?
- Judging the work of peers in your field, either individually or on a panel
- Published material about you in professional publications, major trade publications, or other major media
- Authorship of scholarly articles in professional publications, major trade publications, or other major media
- Employment in a critical or essential capacity at a company with a distinguished reputation
- Original contributions of major significance to your field
- Commanding a high salary or other significantly high remuneration
- Nationally or internationally recognized prizes or awards for excellence in your field
One of the reasons why the O-1A is so popular is its flexible criteria. No matter what field or industry you work in, chances are, there is a membership you can join. If you want to learn more about how to qualify for the O-1 visa, join one of our free O-1 visa webinars. Our team will go through each O-1 criterion in detail, and answer any questions you may have.