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You’re an insanely busy startup founder, not a work visa master. If you’re struggling to understand your work visa options, don’t spend another second worrying about it–we have you covered! We spend every day helping startup founders understand their options, and preparing visa applications without mountains of paperwork or the hassle of hiring an immigration attorney.

What is the O-1A Visa?

The boring definition: The O-1A visa is a non-immigrant visa which allows individuals with extraordinary ability to live and work in the United States.

Boring definition translation: Venture-backed startup founders are extraordinary. We’ll cover the meaning of ‘extraordinary ability’ in the next question!

What does “Extraordinary Ability’ mean?

Extraordinary ability is a fancy way to say you have received major recognition in your field. There are eight criteria to demonstrate extraordinary ability, which we’ll cover below. If you meet at least three of the criteria, you’re qualified for the O-1A.

Let’s dive into the criterion and an example for each as a startup founder:

Criteria You meet this criterion if…
Awards You raised venture capital
Critical Employment You founded a venture-backed company
Press You get coverage in major media
Judging You’ve judged a startup competition
Memberships You’ve gone through an accelerator
High Remuneration You have significant equity in a venture-backed company
Scholarly Articles You’ve authored scholarly articles
Original Contributions You invented something original. This one is pretty subjective, but we can talk about it with you!

How is the O-1A Visa Different from the O-1B Visa?

Like the O-1A, the O-1B is also for extraordinary ability, but for people who specialize in the arts like fashion designers, film producers, and even UX designers.

What is the difference between the O-1A and the H-1B?

Both the O-1A and H-1B visas are viable options for working in the United States. The H-1B is for jobs that require a U.S. Bachelor’s degree (or equivalent), and often leveraged to hire STEM graduates from U.S. universities. The H-1B has certain limitations like a lottery process, known as the H-1B Cap, and a six-year limit for staying in the U.S. You can read more about it in our H-1B FAQ here. Unlike the H-1B, O-1As don’t have an annual cap, can be applied for any time of year, and can be extended indefinitely.

What is the best visa option for startup founders?

The O-1A is almost always the best option for startup founders, especially for those who have raised capital. If you run a venture-backed startup, you likely already qualify for the O-1A.

Can I submit a petition on my own behalf?

No. O-1A applicants cannot submit a petition on their own behalf. An employer in the U.S. or agent may file an O-1A application. If you are a startup founder, someone else at your company will need to sign the government forms and letters.

What documents do I need in order to apply for the O-1A?

The person submitting the O-1A application on your behalf will need to file Form I-129 along with supporting documentation.

How long is the O-1A processing time?

Generally, standard processing can take over three months. Visa applicants can choose to expedite the process by paying an additional government fee for premium processing. Premium process ensures a response from the government in 15 days. Most applicants choose to pay the premium processing fee, but it is optional.

How long is the O-1A valid?

The O-1A is initially valid for three years. After the first three years, you can extend your visa status in intervals of one year each indefinitely.

Can I change my current status to O-1A status?

It depends. Some visas don’t allow you to change your status while in the U.S. (like visitor visas or some exchange student visa programs). We’re happy to help you figure out your options!

Can I transition from an O-1A to a Green Card?

Yes. The most common transition from the O-1A is to the EB-1 Green Card category.

Can my spouse or children come with me on the O-1A?

Absolutely! If you have an O-1A, your spouse or children qualify for the O-3 visa. Do keep in mind that spouses and children will not be able to work in the U.S. with the O-3 status.

Do you have other questions?

There are a lot of details to keep track of, but don’t worry, we can help you! If you’re curious about how Legalpad helps startup founders get work visas, reach out to us, and we’ll walk you through your unique situation.

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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.