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O-1A Criteria for Startup Founders

You may remember from our O-1A FAQs post that there are eight criteria for the O-1A visa. The good news is you only have to meet three criteria to qualify for the O-1A. Even better news - if you’re a venture-backed founder, you likely already meet numerous criteria. 

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In this post, we will dive into each of these eight O-1A criteria. At a glance they include:

Criteria You meet this criterion if…
Awards You have received an award for your work in the field or have raised venture capital
Critical Employment You have founded a venture-backed company with a distinguished reputation
Press News outlets have published articles about you
Judging You’ve judged a startup competition
Memberships You’ve gone through an accelerator or are a member of a professional association relevant to your field
High Remuneration You have significant equity in a venture-backed company in addition to a moderately high salary
Scholarly Articles You’ve authored scholarly articles
Original Contributions You invented something original. This one is pretty subjective, so we can discuss it with you!

O-1 Criterion: Awards

Not many people know this, but venture capital can be classified as an award. If you’ve raised funding for your startup, you may meet this requirement! We can demonstrate that as the founder of a company, any funding award to your company is an award for you.

Awards that are offered to you as an individual, such as Forbes 30 Under 30 are even better!

O-1 Criterion: Critical Employment

For this category, USCIS wants to see that you are a ‘critical’ or ‘essential’ employee at your startup or any previous company where you’ve been employed and that the company has a distinguished reputation.

By being a founder, you are automatically viewed as an essential player in your company’s success. You can also show that you were a critical employee at a previous company by showing how many people you managed, your impact on the company, and so on.

Whether it's your current startup or a past employer, you’ll have to show that the company has a distinguished reputation by demonstrating that the company has gained traction in its field, has a high number of users/customers, has impressive partnerships, has raised funding, been featured in news outlets, the list goes on!

O-1 Criterion: Press

Getting yourself or your startup featured in major media or industry publications meets this criterion. Featured in TechCrunch? Check! Interviewed by the Wall Street Journal? Yes! Your buddy’s blog? Unless your buddy’s name is Kara Swisher, we may need to discuss this more…

Press articles that are about you as an individual are even better than articles that are only about your company. Even if an article is mainly about your company, it's best to try to get the author to at least mention you by name or feature some quotes from you. You’ll have to show USCIS that this article is about you, so the more that you are mentioned throughout the article, the better!

O-1 Criterion: Judging

As a startup founder, a great way to meet this requirement is to judge a startup competition. This could include anything from sitting on a hackathon judges panel to reviewing peer-reviewed articles related to your area of expertise. 

Remember that student competitions don’t typically meet the judging requirements, so make sure you are judging an event for professionals rather than students.

O-1 Criterion: Memberships

This requirement is met if you are a member of an organization that requires outstanding achievements as judged by recognized experts in the same field. That’s a mouthful, but essentially, if you’re a part of a group that’s hard to get into, like a highly-selective accelerator program (ahem, Techstars), you easily meet this requirement!

O-1 Criterion: High Remuneration

If you have or have owned significant equity in a venture-backed company and have a high salary, you may meet this criterion. You don’t need to be paid in cash money (the struggle is real)!

Keep in mind that this could be the future salary that you will hold once your O-1 petition is approved, or it could be a past salary you held at a former company.

O-1 Criterion: Scholarly Articles

Have you authored any scholarly articles? For example, if you have a Ph.D. that’s relevant to your startup’s work, and your research papers were peer-reviewed and published, a) you are very smart and dedicated and b) USCIS thinks you’re extraordinary!

O-1 Criterion: Original Contributions

This category is super subjective. You’ll need to have invented something of ‘major significance'. In other words, something you created has made a significant impact in your field. What about your startup or your startup’s product is both unique and significant? 

This may require more discussion as it’s very open to interpretation. While we obviously think you’re awesome, amazing, and extraordinary, there may be additional legwork here to ensure that USCIS knows it too.

O-1A Criteria Conclusion and Next Steps

These requirements may seem like a lot at first, but it’s no coincidence that these achievements are very familiar to you. The O-1A visa is usually the best option for startup entrepreneurs like you because it really captures everything you’ve accomplished to get to where you are!

If you’re not sure you meet the O-1A criteria yet, check out this article about how to strengthen your O-1A criteria.

We’re always happy to be a resource for enterprising companies and people like you–reach out to us any time for your immigration questions and needs!

About the author:

Allison Davy

Vice President Marketing, Legalpad

Allison helps startup founders from around the world navigate the complex U.S. immigration system so they can pursue their goals and purpose.