Non-Immigrant: O-1 Visa - Aliens of Extraordinary Ability

General Overview

Congress has designated those groups to which it gives preference in immigrating to the United States. An Alien of Extraordinary Ability in the sciences, arts, education, business, or athletics is included within this preference category. This ability must be demonstrated through sustained national or international acclaim, and the alien must have achievements recognized in the field through extensive documentation.

A specific job offer is not required for an alien in this group, as long as the alien is entering the United States to continue work in the field in which he or she has extraordinary ability. Therefore the alien may file his/her own petition with the INS for classification in this preference, rather than having the petition filed by an employer. In the INS regulations, "extraordinary ability" is defined as a "level of expertise indicating that the individual is one of those few who have risen to the top of the field of endeavor."

The crucial aspect of an INS petition for an extraordinary ability alien is the documentation required to establish such ability. The INS rules permit the alien to establish extraordinary ability by evidence of receipt of a major, internationally recognized award, such as a Nobel Prize or an Academy Award. Absent receipt of such an award, the alien must include at least three types of evidence from the following list:

  1. Documentation of receipt of lesser nationally or internationally recognized prizes or awards for excellence in the field of endeavor;
  2. Documentation of membership in associations in the field of endeavor which require outstanding achievements of their members, as judged by recognized national or international experts in the field;
  3. Published material in professional or major trade publications or major media about the alien and relating to the alien's work in the field of endeavor;
  4. Evidence of participation, on a panel or individually, as a judge of the work of others in the same field of specialization;
  5. Evidence of original scientific, scholarly, or artistic contributions of major significance in the field of endeavor;
  6. Evidence of authorship of scholarly articles in the field, in professional journals or other media;
  7. Evidence of the display of work in the field at artistic exhibitions or showcases in more than one country;
  8. Evidence of performance in a lead, starring, or critical role for organizations or establishments with distinguished reputations;
  9. Evidence of having commanded a high salary or other significantly higher renumeration for services in relation to others;
  10. Evidence of commercial success in performing arts, as shown by box office receipts or record, cassette, compact disk, or video sales.

The rules provide that other comparable evidence may be submitted if the above types of evidence do not readily apply to the alien's occupation. Although the INS rules state that the alien can document his or her extraordinary ability by producing three types of evidence from the list of ten included in the rules, the INS has stated that there may be circumstances in which a Service Center may require additional evidence to document extraordinary ability even when the alien has provided three types of evidence from the INS list. The INS must have evidence that the alien is "one of that small percentage who have risen to the very top of his or her field of endeavor."