The O-1 visa is a non-immigrant visa for individuals of “extraordinary ability”. “Extraordinary” is obviously a strong word, and by its definition, should only apply to a few people in a particular field. However, the actual application of what it means to be “extraordinary” in the context of an O-1 visa includes a broader category of people and not as restrictive as one may think.

So what does it really mean to possess “extraordinary ability”?

In order to qualify for the 0-1, an individual must demonstrate the following:

  1. “extraordinary ability by sustained national or international acclaim.” The applicant must be vising the US temporarily to continue work in the area of extraordinary ability.
  2. The “extraordinary ability in the fields of science, education, business or athletics means a level of expertise indicating that the person is one of the small percentage who has risen to the very top of the field of endeavor.”
  3. Extraordinary ability in the field of arts means distinction, which is judged by a “high-level of achievement in the field of the arts evidenced by a degree of skill and recognition substantially above that ordinarily encountered to the extent that a person described as prominent is renowned, leading, or well-known in the field of arts.”
  4. To get an O-1 visa in the motion picture or television industry, the beneficiary needs to demonstrate extraordinary achievement. The person must be “recognized as outstanding, notable or leading in the motion picture and/or television field.”

For those working in the fields of science, education, business or athletics, USCIS sustained national or international acclaim can be demonstrated by a major internationally recognized award, or at least three of the listed criteria set out by USCIS. For those working in the field of arts, prominence in one’s field of endeavor can be demonstrated by showing that he or she has been nominated for or have received significant national or international awards or prizes in the particular field, or alternatively, must show at least three of the listed criteria as set out by USCIS. The criteria applied for those in the motion picture or television industry are the same as for those in the field of arts, however, the evidentiary standard is slightly higher and subject to a raised threshold bar.

Now, these definitions and guidelines will most likely still cause a fair degree of confusion as to whether one can indeed qualify as an individual of extraordinary ability. After all, very few people have actually won a major internationally recognized award, such as an Olympics medal or a Pulitzer Prize, or significant national or international award or prize such as an Oscar, Emmy or Grammy award. This is where the immigration attorney’s use of know-how strategies and tactics in their ability to gather the evidentiary materials of the applicant’s credentials and experience, and position the applicant in the best possible light to fit at least three of the evidentiary criteria becomes absolutely crucial.

For example, if you are an architectural designer who previously worked at a top architectural firm that has designed major landmarks and projects around the world, by virtue of the fact that you worked at such a top firm alone allows you to substantially rise above those with skills and recognition ordinarily encountered in the field and thereby showing prominence in the field of endeavor. With literally hundreds and thousands of architectural firms in the world, working at a renowned and reputable firm in and of itself gives significant weight towards laying out many of the evidentiary criteria required to establish extraordinary ability. Similarly, if you are a photographer who has shot for Calvin Klein or Tommy Hilfiger, the power of the brand itself will lend much strength to an O-1 petition in terms of establishing the evidentiary criteria required to show extraordinary ability. These brands are major global brands that most likely have a huge pool of talented artists to choose from, and having being picked amongst such a huge pool can be termed “extraordinary”. Or let’s say you’re a graphic designer who designed web or advertisement banners for CCTV, one of China’s major television networks with millions of Chinese language viewers around the world, then that can also be deemed “extraordinary”. In essence, there are many ways to establish “extraordinary ability” as defined by the USCIS regulations.

It ultimately takes a competent attorney to sift through the applicant’s professional background and credentials, and pack the essential ingredients into what would make the strongest possible application in order to maximize the chances of obtaining an approved O-1 petition. An immigration attorney with years of qualified experience will know what red flags that may trigger a Request for Further Evidence (“RFE”) to look out for, the kinds of professional experience to include, which awards to include, and what type of recommendation letters and from whom to obtain them from, in order to prepare a complete and comprehensive O-1 visa petition. Many immigration attorneys try to pack in as much as possible into the petitioning papers, but an attorney with exceptional O-1 visa experience will know what NOT to include in an application. An O-1 petition is not simply putting together information but rather, strategically positioning and petitioning for the O-1 visa using the right kinds of information. Using these various strategies and tactics is essential towards putting together the kinds of evidentiary materials that a well-prepared application should include.

If you believe that you are a person of “extraordinary ability”, but unsure about whether you qualify as one and are interested in finding out more, contact our office at 718-539-1100  or


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