The O-1 category is one of the most prestigious employment-based nonimmigrant visas because of its numerous benefits, which include a long period of stay for principal beneficiaries and their families as well as the opportunity to obtain a green card. Many visa applicants and petitioners typically don’t consider the O-1 because of its seemingly exclusive requirements. For skilled foreign engineers, however, meeting the criteria may not be as difficult as it is for other applicants, especially if you work with an experienced O-1 visa immigration attorney.
Background of the O-1 Visa for Engineers
The O-1 visa is a nonimmigrant classification for people with extraordinary ability in science, arts, business, or athletics. It has two major subcategories: the O-1A and O-1B. As an engineer, you can apply for the O-1A subcategory, which is designated for science-related fields.
Do All Foreign Engineers Qualify for an O-1 Visa?
Being an experienced engineer will definitely boost your chance of getting an O-1 visa. However, that alone will not grant you a visa. Just as it is with every U.S. work visa application, before you can apply for an O-1 visa, you must fulfill certain requirements. For the O-1, the requirements are as follows:
- Have a job offer from a U.S. employer or agent
- Be able to demonstrate extraordinary ability in your field
The O-1 extraordinary ability requirement indicates that you possess an exceptional degree of skills and recognition that is not ordinarily encountered in your specific field of engineering. To determine this, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) provides eight evidentiary criteria out of which an applicant must meet at least three. Apart from this, you must also fulfill several other conditions, including recommendation letters from renowned professionals or recognized organizations in your field.
O-1 Visa for Engineers Evidentiary Criteria
The following are the eight evidentiary criteria and a breakdown of what each of them would require for an engineer.
Acclaimed Awards and Prizes in Your Field
You must have earned some kind of recognition for excellence in the engineering field that is of national or international significance.
A Published Material in a Major Media about Your Work
This requires that your name has appeared in an article or in a major print or online publication, about your work or achievement in your engineering field. The article must be mainly about you; if other people are mentioned, your name must have equal significant mention and attention.
Membership in an Association of Engineers:
You must be a member of an association, guild, or league that is exclusively meant for professionals in the engineering field. Your membership must be based on merit and must have been granted by experts in the field. School alumni associations that are open to any graduate of a school or associations that only require a certain number of years in the engineering field will not count for this requirement. It must specifically be based on your individual achievements.
Participation as a Judge of Works of Others in Engineering Field
You are in the position of an expert in your field whose judgment, approval, consultation, or advice is sought on other people’s work either as a member of a panel or individually. This may include being part of an editorial board or playing a supervisory role for a journal in the engineering field.
Authorship of Scholarly Articles
You must have published scholarly work of academic significance in major media or professional journals.
Significant Contributions in the Field
You must have made a scholarly or business-related impact of major significance to the engineering field. This may be an individual or team achievement in research, testing, or scientific discovery. The work must, in a way, be of benefit to others in the field.
Employment in an Essential Capacity
You must occupy a critical or essential role in a reputable organization. Your job position must be pivotal and crucial to the running of the company. This may be a supervisory role.
High Salary Criteria
Your exceptional ability in the field has placed you on a salary scale that is higher when compared to other engineers in your field and in the country where you work or have worked.
Other O-1 Visa Requirements for Engineers
Apart from the above evidentiary criteria, all O-1 visa application must also include the following:
You must submit a letter of recommendation from a peer group, labor organization, or individual expertise in your specific engineering field. To avoid the request of additional evidence on this requirement, try to provide original documents, as distinctively official markings or watermarks will be needed to ascertain the authenticity of the letters. The USCIS will not accept the documents if there are doubts regarding its validity.
The consultation requirement may be waived if you can demonstrate that an appropriate labor organization or peer group does not exist in your field of expertise. In such a scenario, the USCIS will adjudicate your case solely based on the evidence you have submitted.
A copy of a written contract between you and your employer must be provided. If the agreement was made in verbal terms, you must provide a summary of the contract, which indicates that you both reached a mutual agreement. There must be some evidence to support this such as an email or other documents showing both what the employer offered and what the employee accepted.
You must provide an explanation of the nature of activities that your O-1 engineering job will cover. The itineraries must include the beginning and end dates of every event and activity you will be involved in during your stay.
O-Visa Application Process for Engineers
The O-1 visa application process can be somewhat tricky due to its exclusive requirements. However, adhering to the following guidelines will significantly improve your chances of approval:
Work with an Immigration Attorney
Many U.S. employers who file employment-based visas have designated attorneys they work with. However, if your prospective employer doesn’t have one, you can consult an attorney on your own. Working with an experienced O-1 lawyer will make the process much easier, as you will benefit from their knowledge of the O-1 visa from the beginning to the end of the process. Also, whenever you are ready to apply for a green card, your lawyer will be instrumental in helping you expedite the process.
Leverage Your Qualifications and Past Achievements
One of the major misconceptions about the O-1 visa is that getting evidence for the petition is nearly impossible for engineers. Other misunderstandings include:
- You need a Nobel Prize or prestigious academy award
- Only top engineers in an organization can qualify
Yes, prestigious awards and global recognition in your field constitute as evidence of extraordinary ability. But it is not mandatory to have them in order to qualify for an O-1 visa.
The reality is that those are just a few of the eight criteria. In fact, most foreign engineers with the O-1 visa do not have achievements of that caliber. They obtained their visas because they were creative in organizing and presenting their academic qualifications and past achievements at different stages of their engineering careers to meet the requirements.
Important Tips for O-1 Evidentiary Criteria:
No Achievement is Insignificant:
Gather all the prizes and honors you have acquired at different stages of your career, including those that may seem insignificant. An experienced O-1 attorney will surely know how to use them to make a case for you.
For instance, if you have worked or volunteered as a peer reviewer of engineering-related journals, this can be a benefit in meeting “judging other people’s work criteria.”
You should also review the membership requirements of any national or international association of engineers you belong to and compare the criteria with O-1 standard.
The critical employment capacity criterion is another tricky O-1 requirement. This involves two things – how reputable the organization is and how critical your role is. Take time to highlight the areas of strength of each of the organizations you have worked for. This can include their popularity, revenue, prestige, or achievements.
Have a Well-Detailed Resume:
Your resume or CV should capture all you have achieved in your career. It should be well formatted and comprehensive.
Get Enough Reference Letters
This is where you leverage your relationships with top engineers you know or have worked with. While there is no official mention of the number of letters, it is recommended that you try to have 6 to 10 from different individuals. Your recommenders do not have to be from the United States; they can be from any part of the world. This can include one or two professors or teachers at the university from which you graduated. The quality is of more importance than the quantity. Therefore, the credibility of the recommender and organization of the letters matter significantly.
The letters should be written in English on letterhead, with the date and signature of each recommender. It will also be advantageous if they can include their biography and resume along with the letters.
O-1 Visa Period of Stay
An O-1 visa is issued with an initial period of stay of three years for qualified foreign engineers and their immediate family members. Your stay may be extended in increments of up to 1 year indefinitely after the initial period of stay.
Does O-1 Visa Have Green Card Opportunity?
The O-1 is a dual intent visa classification with the opportunity to petition for a green card and become a lawful permanent resident in the U.S. without jeopardizing your nonimmigrant status. This green card opportunity is also available to your immediate family members.
As an O-1 engineer, your credentials will likely be ideal for the first preference employment-based green card category, the EB-1 immigrant visa, which is also for applicants with extraordinary ability. The requirements are quite similar to the O-1 visa, meaning you may be able to use similar documentation and evidence to satisfy the criteria. Another interesting thing about the EB-1 green card is that you don’t need an employer to sponsor your petition. You can self-petition your status adjustment by submitting an I-140 petition to the USCIS.