The O-1 visa is a nonimmigrant classification designed for foreign nationals with extraordinary ability or achievements in their careers. It is divided into two categories, the O-1A and the O-1B. The O-1A is for professionals in the sciences, business, education, or athletics while the O-1B is for those in the motion picture or television industry.
O-1 Eligibility Criteria for Physicians and Clinicians
As a physician or clinician, you can file for the first category (O-1A), which specifically indicates extraordinary ability in medical science. Extraordinary ability in this context means that you belong to the small percentage of professionals in the field who have gotten to the top of their career. This must be demonstrated with documentation of records of your past achievements and contributions to the field of medicine.
While the requirements may seem stringent at first glance, being a fellow with several years of training and experience in your specialty may give you an edge over other O-1 visa applicants. This is because you have likely met the requirements naturally and garnered sufficient supporting evidence to prove your eligibility.
How to Apply for an O-1 Visa
Just like other nonimmigrant work visas, O-1 visa applicants must be seeking to work in the United States through employment that is related to their field. In this case, as a physician or clinician fellow, your visa application must be sponsored by an employer in the medical field.
Employment in a Medical Institution
Your prospective employer will need to file an I-129 to petition the USCIS for the O-1 visa. Also, if you are already living in the U.S. and working for an organization within the medical field under a different status (for example, a J-1 visa) and would like to change your status to O-1 while still working for the same employer, the same I-129 must be filed by the existing employer. Your I-129 petition must be submitted with the following evidence:
- A copy of the contract between the petitioner (your employer) and you. If the contract was agreed orally, you would need to submit a summary of what was agreed upon, with evidence, preferably an email, showing that you both reached a mutual conclusion on the agreement.
- A copy of an itinerary containing all the activities, including the beginning and end dates of the contract must be provided. To ensure that the proposed employment for which you are seeking an O-1 visa fellowship is within your field of extraordinary ability, the USCIS will want to know the itineraries involved in the contract.
- A consultation, which is a written advisory opinion from a peer group or an individual with expertise in the medical field. It is best to submit an original copy containing a watermark or other distinctive marks to validate the authenticity of the document, as anything less may raise doubts.
Evidentiary Criteria for O-1 Visa
The O-1 visa evidentiary criteria are focused on outstanding achievements recorded in one’s professional field. Every applicant is expected to meet at least three out of the eight listed criteria in order to be qualified for the visa. Records showing that you meet the required criteria must be included as part of the documentation for your O-1 visa application. The requirements are as follows:
- Receipt of recognized awards or prizes for excellence at the national or global level
- Membership in an organization in your field which requires outstanding achievements to enter
- Published materials in professional journals or other major media about you or your work in the field
- Original scholarly contributions of major significance in the field
- Authorship of scholarly articles in the field that are published in professional journals or other major media
- Proof that you have judged other people’s work in your field, either individually or as a member of a panel
- A large salary or other compensation indicative of your achievements
- Evidence showing that you have been employed in and have performed well in a critical or essential capacity in a well-established organization
How Physicians and Clinicians Can Prove Meeting O-1 Visa Evidentiary Criteria
One of the biggest misconceptions about the O-1 is that this visa classification is only meant for those who are veterans in the field and have had substantial media coverage concerning their work. This misconception is even more commonly expressed in the medical field and has been the reason why many physicians and clinicians in fellowships who are eligible for the visa believe that they are not qualified.
While filing for an O-1 visa through a fellowship requires more supporting documents than most other work visas, the requirements are not out of reach for clinicians and physicians who are a part of a fellowship. As a matter of fact, being a fellow likely improves your O-1 chances compared to applicants in other professions. Here is how you can prove that you meet some of the most challenging parts of the requirements as a physician or clinician in fellowship training.
Authorship of Scholarly Articles
Meeting this requirement can be much easier than you may think. This is because there are several avenues to explore in the medical field when it comes to authorship. For instance, if some of your work during your schooling were published in a journal, they can be included as part of the O-1 visa fellowships documentation.
It is not compulsory for the work to have been cited before, though it will be more advantageous if there are citations. While the number of required articles is not clearly stated by the USCIS, you can select a few that are the most outstanding. Some applicants provide upwards of two or three, though there have been some successful applicants who only provided one article. It is less about the number than it is how convincing your petition is.
Also, many fellow physicians have presented lectures on topical issues in their specialties at major care centers. Though this may not generally be regarded as a professional journal publication, it can still be provided as part of your work in the field of medicine.
Membership of an Association
The membership must be that of a professional association in the medical field that only admits members based on their achievements. Passing medical training or being an alumni association member will not count for this.
Most recognized associations require interviews, nomination, advanced certifications, and many other methods of evaluation before you can become a member. Due to the seemingly high standard, many physicians and clinicians in fellowship training avoid the criterion altogether and thereby don’t explore the option when filing their O-1 visas.
However, this is another requirement that may not be as hard as you initially thought. It is possible to have already attained this status without knowing. To be sure about this, doctors are always advised to review the requirements for the association they belong to and juxtapose the requirements with the O-1 eligibility for the membership criterion.
Evidence That You Have Judged Other People’s Work
Because it is a hierarchical profession, the medical field requires regular documentation of the events, progress, and activities of personnel in the profession. To become a fellow, a doctor must have passed through different stages where his or her performance in the field was evaluated by various senior colleagues.
In the same vein, it is compulsory for the physician to teach difficult procedures to nurses, technical assistants, and other practitioners who report to the physician. As part of their responsibility to junior colleagues, doctors must evaluate and judge their performances. All these can be documented and presented as part of your O-1 visa fellowship application.
Apart from the supervisory role within the hospital environment, many clinicians also volunteer to work as peer reviewers for medical journals. If you have participated in this in the past, it will be very helpful in showing that you have judged the work of your peers in the medical field.
Critical or Essential Capacity in an Organization With a Distinguished Reputation
Again, the major keywords for this criterion are relative. To start with, you will need to highlight factors that make the organization reputable in the medical field. This can include a special procedure the institution is known for or other outstanding accomplishments that have been recorded by the institution.
The position you occupied and roles played even as a doctor in fellowship training should also be highlighted. This can include any administrative, supervisory, and teaching roles you had in the organization. Typically, most capacities during medical training are essential and critical in nature.
Remember, however, that you are only asked to meet three out of the eight eligibility criteria. All that you need to do is to choose the three criteria that you have the strongest evidence to support, and ensure that you use them as supporting evidence of your extraordinary ability in your medical profession and as a fellow.
An immigration attorney with experience in filing O-1 visas for doctors and other health practitioners will be in the best position to help you and significantly improve your chances of approval.
O-1 Visa to Green Card for Physicians and Clinicians
The “dual intent” feature is one of the biggest advantages that make the O-1 visa a highly preferred nonimmigrant visa. This means that you can apply for a green card while still working under your O-1 visa, thereby becoming a lawful permanent resident in the U.S. The most common green card type usually chosen by O-1 visa holders is the EB-1A or EB-1B.
The EB-1 green card is also for individuals with extraordinary ability, with most of its requirements being very similar to that of the O-1 visa. As a doctor or clinician in fellowship training with an O-1 visa, the EB-1A category may be an excellent option for you, as you can easily demonstrate extraordinary ability in medical science.
Keep in mind, however, that despite the similarities, more focus is often attached to green cards than nonimmigrant visas. However, working closely with your immigration attorney can make the process easier.