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Living in the U.S. on O-3 Visa Status

The O-3 visa allows the spouse and unmarried children (under 21 years) of O-1 and O-2 visa holders to accompany their family to the United States.

However, the O-3 has significant restrictions that make navigating life in the U.S. on O-3 visa status challenging. Unlike the H-3 visa for H-1B dependents and the L-2 visa for H-1B dependents, the O-3 visa does not allow spouses or children to work in the U.S. In addition, O-3 visa holders cannot obtain a social security number (SSN), which makes it difficult to set up a U.S. bank account and complete other tasks in the U.S.

What is the O-3 Visa, and Who Qualifies?

O-3 is a subset of the O visa category in the United States. The purpose of the O-3 is to enable family members of O-1 and O-2 visa holders to move to the U.S. with the primary applicant.

To qualify for O-3 status, you must be the spouse or unmarried child (under 21 years of age) of someone with O-1 or O-2 visa status.

Applying for O-3 Status

The O-3 application process differs based on whether you’re changing status to O-3 from inside the U.S. or planning to enter the U.S. on O-3 status.

Dependents in the U.S. can change status by filing Form I-539, Application to Extend/Change Nonimmigrant Status. Families applying for more than one O-3 dependent can submit a Form I-539A application for each additional dependent along with the original I-539 for the first dependent.

To apply for O-3 status from outside the U.S., O-3 dependents must accompany the primary applicant to their visa stamping appointment at a U.S. consulate or embassy abroad.

Benefits of O-3 Status

  • Temporarily relocate to the U.S. with O visa family
  • Unlimited entries into the U.S. for the duration of O status
  • Study at a U.S. school or institution
  • Change status to another U.S. visa status without needing to reenter the U.S.
  • Apply for an immigrant visa
  • Adjust status and become a green card holder (if qualified)

Limitations of O-3 Status

  • O-3 visa holders cannot work while in the U.S. (for a U.S. or foreign company)
  • O-3 visa holders are not eligible to receive an SSN, which can make it challenging to:
    • Open a U.S. bank account
    • Fill out a renter application

Obtaining Legal Work Authorization as an O-3 Visa Holder
Immigrants on O-3 status are not allowed to work in the U.S., regardless of whether they work for an American or foreign company. The only way to obtain legal work authorization is to change to another immigration status, such as a work or student visa. Alternatively, O-3 holders can apply for a green card.

An Overview of Visas for O-3 Visa Holders

F-1: One of the most common ways O-3 visa holders obtain work authorization is through an F-1 student visa. Although the F-1 is a student visa, F-1 holders can become eligible for CPT, OPT, and STEM OPT work authorization, depending on the area of study.

O-1: If qualified, O-3 visa holders can change status to O-1. Applicants must satisfy at least three O-1 criteria and have a U.S. employer willing to sponsor their visa petition.

H-1B: The H-1B is one of the most common U.S. work visas. An O-3 visa holder can change status to H-1B if they meet the H-1B requirements, have a sponsoring employer, and get selected in the annual H-1B lottery.

Becoming a U.S. Permanent Resident

The best solution for many O-3 visa holders is to remain in O-3 status and wait to become a permanent resident (green card holder).

There are several ways to qualify for U.S. permanent residence, but most O-3 holders apply as a dependent on an employment-based green card. Their O-1 or O-2 visa-holding family member must qualify for an employment-based immigrant visa, such as the EB-1A or EB-2 NIW. After the approval of the immigrant visa, the applicant and qualified family members can file a green card application.

Waiting to become a permanent resident as an O-3 visa holder has one downside. The green card process can take a long time, depending on country of birth, priority level, and USCIS processing times.

From the time they enter the U.S. on O-3 status, it could be several years or more before an O-3 visa holder can work on their green card. However, many green card applicants apply for an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) concurrently with their green card. EADs are issued in advance before the green card, allowing immigrants to begin working on the EAD more quickly.

Applying for a Bank Account Without a Social Security Number

Many U.S. banks require customers to provide a U.S. SSN before opening an account. This may make it seem impossible for O-3 visa holders to open a U.S. bank account. However, there is a way around the SSN requirement.

Most banks allow customers to open an account with an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) instead of an SSN. The ITIN number can be used not only to apply for a bank account but also to pay taxes. To obtain an ITIN, O-3 holders can file Form W-2 with the U.S. Internal Revenue Service (IRS).


Final Thoughts: O-3 Visa Status

EB-1 VisaO-3 visa status allows family members of O-1 and O-2 visa holders to travel together to the United States. While O-3 holders cannot be employed, there are ways that they can obtain a green card or work visa after relocating to the U.S. on O-3 status.

If you are exploring work authorization solutions for yourself or a family member, connect with our immigration team. We can help you walk through your options and point you to the best resources to help you achieve your goals in the U.S.

About the author:

Jemima Owen-Jones

Jemima helps international startups and their teams navigate the work visa process so they can get approved fast and focus on what they do best.