The opportunity to work for multiple employers is one of the most advantageous perks of the O-1 visa. While many people are aware of this, only a few understand how it really works. How exactly can an O-1 visa holder work for more than one employer? This article gives you an in-depth breakdown of the process from the visa application down to the terms and conditions guiding O-1 employment in the U.S.
What is an O-1 Visa?
The O-1 visa is a prestigious nonimmigrant classification designed for foreign nationals who possess extraordinary ability in their professions and are well known nationally or globally for their achievements in their respective fields. The visa classification has two subcategories, namely:
- O-1A: For those who possess exceptional ability in the sciences, education, business or athletics
- O-1B: For those who possess exceptional ability in the motion picture or television industry
Requirements for O-1 Nonimmigrant Visa
Each of the O-1 subcategories (O-1A and O-1B) has a list of unique evidentiary criteria given by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). An applicant must satisfy at least three out of the eight in his or her subcategory. These requirements serve as proof that you have risen to the very top of your chosen career, and have substantial documents and/or major national or international awards to back up your claims.
Can an O-1 Visa Holder Work for Multiple Employers?
You can work for multiple employers on an O-1 visa. It must, however, be noted that most U.S.-based work visas, including the O-1, are designed to reflect the contractual agreement between you and each of the employers you are to work for.
Who Can Sponsor My O-1 Visa Petition?
Just like most other nonimmigrant work visas, your O-1 visa petition must be sponsored by an authorized U.S.-based person or organization. You cannot self-petition for your O-1 visa. So, as a contractor or freelancer who wishes to work for multiple employers, your O-1 visa must be sponsored by an agent or the employers. Hence, to work for various employers, your O-1 visa petition can be filed in two different ways:
By a U.S. Employer
It must be established that each employer has a job offer for you, and there is an agreement on the job description, wages, and other terms and conditions between you and the employers. Each employer must submit a separate petition to the USCIS with the details of what your activities on the jobs will involve.
By an Agent
The second option is to have your petition sponsored by a person or company acting as an agent on the employers’ behalf. In this case, the agent will only need to file a single petition that encompasses all of the individual employers, provided he is authorized by the employers individually. This can be a more straightforward option as it will reduce the bottleneck of having multiple petition filings from different employers.
The O-1 visa agent could be your actual employer, an agent for multiple employers, or a representative of both you and the employer. The application must detail the exact relationship that exists between you and the agent, and there must be verifiable documentation to back up the claims.
Whichever option you choose, keep in mind that all the activities and engagements you will perform are already captured in the petition(s) and will remain binding on your O-1 status. Engaging in employment or activities other than the specific items listed in your petition is a gross violation of your visa regulations, which is prohibited.
How to Process O-1 Visa for Multiple Employers
Your agent will need to file an I-129, Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker with the USCIS. It is important to ascertain that the agent is duly authorized to act as a petitioner for the O-1 visa. An agent may act in the capacity of the actual employer, agent for multiple employers, or agent for foreign employers.
Agent Performing the Function of an Employer
A U.S. agent can be the actual employer of the O-1 visa beneficiary. This will depend on the contract that exists between the two parties. If the terms of your employment reflect that the agent will have a certain degree of control on your activities, the agent may serve the function of an employer.
For example, as an artist or actor, if the agent is also an expert in your field and can use his or her expertise to acquire and refer you to appropriate jobs in the industry, then he or she may satisfy the requirements to act as your actual employer.
To determine this, your agent must submit the contractual agreement which specifies the terms and conditions of the job and the wage offered in particular. If you are going to work in more than one location, an itinerary of all your activities with dates and locations of work must also be provided. The contractual agreement is usually adjudicated on a case-by-case basis, and as such must be a well-detailed document that establishes the relationship between the agent and the beneficiary.
Agent for Multiple Employers
An O-1 visa petition involving multiple employers may also be filed by an agent acting as a representative of both the employee and the petitioner. There must be supporting evidence showing that each of the employers involved gave the agent the mandate to represent them. The supporting documentation must also include:
- A complete itinerary of the events for the engagements or services for each of the employers
- The itinerary must specifically give the dates of each service, as well as the addresses and names of the actual prospective employers, and the names and addresses of the venue, establishment, or locations where the services will be performed
- The contract between the beneficiary and each of the employers
O-1A Evidentiary Criteria
- Evidence showing that you have been given a nationally internationally-recognized award or prizes of excellence in your field
- Evidence of membership in an association in your field, which requires outstanding accomplishments to become a member. Your membership must have been adjudged by other experts in the association
- Published material in professional or major publications or media about you and your work in the field. The publication must be about you, and if others are mentioned in the same publication, your name must have significant mention and attention
- Evidence that your expertise has placed you in a position to judge the other people in your field, either as a member of a panel or individually
- Evidence of your original academic, business-related, or scientific contributions of major significance in your field
- Evidence that you have had scholarly articles in your field published in professional journals or major media
- Evidence that you have been employed in an essential or critical role for a reputable organization or company
- Evidence that your extraordinary ability in the field makes you command or will command a high salary or other compensation.
O-1B Evidentiary Criteria
- Evidence that you have performed or will be performing as a starring or lead character in an event or production, which has a distinguished reputation.
- Evidence that you will be playing a starring role in a reputable organization
- Evidence that you have international or national recognition for your achievements in the industry
- Proof of recognition(s) from critics, organizations, government agencies or other experts for your achievements in the industry
- Evidence of high salary or remunerations that show you are exceptionally-skilled in the industry
- Evidence of the major commercial success of your work reported in trade major newspaper, journals, or other reputable publications
What if I Don’t Have the Evidentiary Criteria?
The above criteria are the standard given by the USCIS for determining eligibility for the O-1 classification. However, due to the peculiarities of some professions, it is understandable that some applicants may not have the exact documents requested to prove these evidentiary criteria.
In a situation where documentation for the above criteria are not available in your field, you may present comparable evidence to establish your eligibility. However, this should not be done without the help of an immigration attorney.
What Type of Multiple Employments Can I Do on an O-1 Visa?
As explained above, the O-1 classification covers a wide range of fields of human endeavor, and each visa petition is processed and issued based on the individual applicant’s experience and skill set. Therefore, you can do any work for any of your multiple employers, provided it is listed in the itineraries submo-1itted to and granted by the USCIS.
If the situation warrants that you make “material changes” to any of the activities on the itineraries or the contractual agreement, you may need to submit an amended petition to the USCIS through your employer.
Material Changes in O-1 Contractual Agreement
According to the O-1 regulations, you must duly notify the USCIS and receive approval before you can make any material change to your contractual agreement. Here is where many O-1 workers and employers get confused as it can be difficult sometimes to determine if a change is “material” or “immaterial.” We recommend that you always seek your immigration lawyer’s advice before taking any steps toward this.
Changing Employers on an O-1 Visa
The O-1 visa guidelines allow you to add new employers or change employers. To do this, the new prospective employer must file a petition with the USCIS. If your initial petition was sponsored by an agent, the agent would need to file an amended petition with the evidence relating to the new employer. The new petition or amended petition may also be submitted with a request for an extension if you would need more time on the job than your current period of stay allows.
Spouse and Children of an O-1 Visa Holder
Your children and spouse are allowed to accompany or join you in the United States on an O derivative visa known as the O-3 classification. They will need to go through the required application process, and if granted, they will be entitled to the same visa validity period as you.
If you are already in the U.S. and would like your family to join you, the immigration officers will need to ensure that you are maintaining O-1 status before they could issue an O-3 for them. You may be asked to submit your I-94, Arrival and Departure Record, as part of the verification documents.
Employment Prohibited for O-3 Visa Holders
Your dependents on O-3 status are not allowed to work in the U.S. It is important to have adequate financial support prepared for them before inviting them over. The immigration officers will take this into account in the adjudication process, and if there is no adequate evidence that their needs would be met, it may raise a red flag. Before your O-3 dependents can work, they must obtain visa classification which has employment authorization. However, they are allowed to study in the U.S.