If you qualify as a foreign worker with extraordinary achievements, then there’s a good chance you want to know everything there is to know about your prestigious visa including how long it will take. While the official O-1 visa processing time is relatively short, there are some other things to take into consideration when planning out the timeline.
What is the O-1 Visa?
The O-1 visa is one of the most difficult visas to obtain. In order to be considered eligible, you must fall into one of the following categories:
- O-1A: this category is for those that can provide evidence of extraordinary ability in the areas of science, business, education, or athletics. These can include professions such as outstanding researchers, executives, professors, or athletes.
- O-1B: this is meant for individuals that have achieved the extraordinary in the arts, movies, or television. This includes world-renowned painters, musicians, and actors.
How to Qualify
Because the exact definition of extraordinary can easily be up for debate, the USCIS defines it as this: “demonstrating a level of expertise or distinction indicating that the person is one of a small percentage who has risen to the very top of the field of endeavor.”
This is still a general definition that is difficult to put into legal terms. Therefore the USCIS has also provided us with a list of things that qualify as appropriate evidence for your extraordinary ability.
For the O-1A visa, you must be able to produce a renowned international award like a Nobel Prize or have evidence of three of the following items:
- Other, smaller international or national prizes that display your achievements.
- Being a member of an association or organization in your field that requires extraordinary achievement for membership.
- Having published material in a journal or other media that is distinguished and related to your field.
- Any scholarly or scientific contributions of significance to your field.
- Having been the author of any scholarly articles that appear in professional journals in your field.
- A large salary that indicates your extraordinary ability
- Having been a judge or panel member critiquing the work of others in your field.
- Playing a critical role in a distinguished company or organization in your field.
In order to be considered for the O-1B visa, you need to show that you have received an international award such as the Emmy award or the Oscar. In lieu of this, you can submit evidence of at least three of the following items:
- Being a lead performer in a production that has been advertised, reviewed, and publicly released.
- Having a lead role in an organization or association that has a distinguished reputation.
- Journals, magazines, newspapers, or other official publications reinforcing your achievement.
- Proof of having attained commercial success through your title, ranking, reviews, ratings, or other suitable means.
- Commanding a large salary that demonstrates your achievements.
These lists, while strict, are not necessarily exhaustive. If you believe that you have evidence that would be suitable to submit to the USCIS, bring it to your immigration attorney to determine if it suffices.
What Are the Steps?
In order to understand the O-1 visa processing time, we first need to walk through each step in the application process and determine how long each will take.
The first step is to submit an I-129 petition. In most situations, you will need to have your employer or agent file this petition. If you do not have an employer, speak with your immigration attorney to see if self-petitioning is an option.
Along with your petition, you will need to submit:
- A consultation. This is defined as a “written advisory opinion from a peer group or person with expertise in the beneficiary’s area of ability.” If you can show that this peer group does not exist, you may be able to have this requirement waived.
- A contract between you and your employer that can be either a written one or a summary of an oral one.
- An itinerary of the work that will be done in the U.S.
This all should be submitted along with the petition between 45 days and one year before your work in the U.S. begins. Once the I-129 petition is approved, you may be asked to go to a U.S. consulate or embassy for a one-on-one interview. Even if the petition is approved, the immigration officer at the embassy still has the ability to deny the visa.
What is the O-1 Visa Processing Time?
Overall, the O-1 visa processing time is relatively short. There’s no need to wait for a Labor Certification Application nor are there specific dates that one must adhere to. The following is the breakdown and the estimated processing time for each stage of the O-1 visa application:
I-129 Petition Filing and Processing: About 2-3 Months
Once you have an employer who is ready and eligible to sponsor your visa, the employer will file I-129 Petition for Nonimmigrant Workers with the USCIS. The petition must be submitted together with evidence to prove you meet the requirements for the specific subcategory of O-1 visa you are applying for.
The I-129 can take anywhere from 2-3 months depending on the service center that processes your petition. The fact that there is no Labor Certification Application makes the O-1 visa processing time relatively shorter than some other nonimmigrant visas like the H-1B. The I-129 form must be filed with the USCIS at least 45 days before your intended start date for employment. After reviewing your petition, the USCIS will make a decision on it. If the petition is approved, then you can proceed to the next stage.
Consular Processing: Processing Time Varies
Once the I-129 form is approved, you (the beneficiary employee) can begin the visa application from your country of residence. The estimated time range across different embassies or consulates varies widely. Depending on the workload at the embassy and your level of preparedness in booking and attending your appointments, the overall consular processing time can take a few weeks. However, the following is the timeline for O-1 visa consular processing:
You will need to file a DS-160 Online Nonimmigrant Visa Application and pay the required visa fee. The supporting documents and filing fees for consular processing will depend on each applicant’s country of origin and specific visa category. Ensure that you complete the form based on the instructions on the embassy website. After completing the application form, you will get a confirmation page with a barcode, which you will need to book and attend your appointments.
Schedule Your Visa Appointments
After completing the application form, the embassy will send you a notice indicating how to schedule your nonimmigrant visa appointments and the required documents needed to book and attend the appointments. These appointments include an in-person interview and medical exam.
Keep in mind that a visa interview is compulsory for all applicants older than 13 and younger than 80. So, you are to schedule an interview for you and all your dependents (if any) within the specified age range. After scheduling the interview, you will receive a notice from the embassy detailing the date, time, and venue for the interview. Apart from certain country-specific items, you will need to attend the interview with the following O-1 visa-related documents:
- Your visa interview appointment notice
- Receipts of all the filing fees you paid
- Your photographs, which must meet these requirements
- Proof of your employment with a U.S. employer (e.g. an employment letter)
- Proof that you meet the eligibility criteria for extraordinary achievement (ensure that it is the same documents submitted by your employer for the USCIS petition).
- Proof of a qualifying family relationship with your dependents (if you are bringing your relatives)
Attend Your Visa Interview
Ensure that you attend the visa interview as scheduled and answer the questions truthfully and correctly. While there are several steps leading to the visa interview which is the last stage of the application, fortunately, the interview itself can take as little as 20 minutes. After the visa interview, you will most likely receive a decision on your application. If the embassy grants you a visa, you can begin your travel plans and enter the United States to start working for your employer.
O-1 Visa Premium Processing: 15 Calendar Days
If 2-3 months is too long of a time to wait for your petition to be processed, the USCIS has an optional feature to expedite the O-1 visa processing time. With premium processing, those 2-3 months will be shortened to 15 calendar days for a fee of $1,440.
So, when you add it together, the O-1 visa processing time is anywhere between 15 days and 3 months depending on whether you go through an interview or if you opt for premium processing.
Can I Change from Other Nonimmigrant Status to O-1 Visa?
Yes. If you are already in the United States, you may change from another nonimmigrant visa to O-1 status. However, this will depend on the current valid status you are in. For instance, a J-1 holder subject to the two-year home-country physical presence requirement may not be able to change to O-1 status.
The change of status option is also not available if you entered the United States without inspection or have overstayed your visa under your authorized status. For a better understanding of how this applies to your specific case, you will need to consult your immigration attorney for more guidance.
Can I Change Employers While on O-1 Visa?
Yes, you may change employers while on an O-1 visa. However, you cannot transfer the existing O-1 status sponsored by the old employer to another employer. The new employer will have to file another O-1 petition on your behalf. Fortunately, the change of employer application process is not as lengthy and cumbersome compared to the original application. This is often due to the fact that you have already qualified for an O-1 visa in the past and have proven your extraordinary achievements.
Are There Travel Restrictions?
No, there are no travel restrictions on an O-1 visa. You can travel in and out of the U.S. while on O-1 status. However, you must take all the necessary precautions required for leaving and reentering the United States. This includes carrying your I-129 petition, I-797 approval notice, valid passport, and other proof that you are maintaining valid O-1 status.
O-1 Renewal Processing Time
O-1 visas are initially granted for an initial period of three years. After that, you will need to get an extension on your visa in intervals of one year each. Fortunately, there is no limit to the number of extensions you can receive. Getting an O-1 visa renewal or extension can be obtained by fulfilling these requirements:
- You must not have violated your visa conditions or been convicted of a crime.
- You must also have a passport that will remain valid throughout your stay in the U.S.
- The USCIS will require a statement from your employer that lays out the reasons for the extension and why it is necessary for you to complete your goal in the U.S.
- You will need to bring your I-94 form with a departure date that has not yet passed as well as a new I-129 petition for your extension.
The O-1 visa renewal processing time should take about as much time as your original visa and can be expedited through premium processing.
It is important to remember that just because your original O-1 visa was granted, this does not mean that your renewal or extension will be approved.
When Can I Apply for an O-1 Visa Extension?
You will need to apply for your O-1 visa extension as early as possible. The USCIS recommends that the application for nonimmigrant visa extension be submitted at least 45 days before the expiration of your authorized stay. Early application will help guard against having your status expire while the extension is still pending.
If your application is approved, the USCIS will send you a second I-94 form indicating the extended authorized stay in the U.S. Do not dispose of the initial I-94 form issued to you, as you will still need to submit all the I-94 forms issued to you when you want to leave the United States.
However, it is also important not to apply for an extension too soon after entering the United States. Submitting your O-1 visa extension application too early may cause suspicion that you had planned to stay longer than the authorized initial period of stay. This may raise red flags with your application. Therefore it is often advisable to spend at least three months in the United States before applying for an extension.
O-1 to Green Card Processing Time
Fortunately, the O-1 visa is considered to be a “dual intent” visa, meaning that O-1 holders can pursue legal permanent residency through a green card. For most O-1 applicants, the likely green card choice is the EB-1. This is because the requirements for the EB-1 are strikingly similar to those for the O-1.
Luckily, the O-1 visa processing time to an EB-1 is also relatively short when compared to other green card transitions. If you are an O-1 holder, here are some of the options available to you:
- The EB-1A green card is for, you guessed it, people with extraordinary ability. Under most circumstances, the evidence that you used for your O-1 visa should suffice. However, be sure to retain an attorney before starting this transition to make sure that your evidence suffices. The main benefit of the EB-1A is that all applicants can self-petition, meaning that they do not need an employer or agent to petition.
- The EB-1B green card is for outstanding researchers and professors. Because many O1 holders are in the fields of research and education, this is a logical choice for many.
- The EB-1C is meant for executives and managers of multinational companies. Normally, this green card is perfect for L-1 visa holders. However, since the O-1 also covers people who show extraordinary ability in the area of business, you may qualify for this category.
To move from the nonimmigrant O-1 visa to the EB-1 green card, you or your employer must file an I-140 petition with the USCIS. Once the petition is received, that date becomes your priority date. You can only move on to the next step when your priority date is current. While other employment-based green cards have waiting times of several years, the
Fortunately, while other employment-based green cards have waiting times of several years, all priority dates are current in the EB-1 category. This means that you can apply to adjust your status as soon as the I-140 petition is approved, which should take about 6-8 months without premium processing.
When your petition is approved, you can submit an I-485 form to have your status adjusted. This should also take about 6 months and premium processing is not available for this form.
All told, the O-1 visa to green card processing time should take about one year without premium processing.
How Our Immigration Attorneys Can Help
With an immigration issue as particular and delicate as the O-1 visa, it pays to be prepared. The best way to make sure that your evidence is solid and your case is waterproof will be to hire an immigration attorney to handle the specifics. From analyzing the O-1 processing time to making sure that your case is supported by the best evidence, a qualified attorney is invaluable to O-1 applicants.
Our lawyers have helped countless extraordinary individuals obtain their O-1 visas over the years. Retaining one of our attorneys will ensure that your case is in the right hands.
To get in touch with one of our attorneys, you can complete this contact form and schedule a consultation with our office today.