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O1 Visa, a possible substitute for H1B

Life is getting a bit complicated, for workers on the other side of the H1B, the ones who are either preparing to apply the first time, or revisit their anxiety from three years before, on a renewal. The reason for cold sweats is understandable. There were 400,000 Labor Condition Applications in the first two quarters of 2017 itself.

Let us remind ourselves that these are the applications that are allowed to be filed in the six months prior to the beginning of employment. This pile is put to test for authenticity and goodness and finally a computer program decides the names of the final 65,000 applicants approved for an H1B under the Department of Labor.

Though there is an additional limit of 20,000, for applicants with an advanced degree, the reality is still in the realm of slim pickings.

H1B is not going to get any generous anytime soon. There are ongoing talks to make the policies, surrounding the visa, more stringent by increasing the basic salary for eligibility and applying stringent rules for companies to abide by, as far as hiring a foreign national is concerned.
Given the ever-choking nature of the popular work visa, it is probably wise to keep track of other avenues towards a visa that lets you work. For instance, there is the L1 visa for employees to transfer into the US under the same parent company.

Or the J1 visa for non-immigrant Exchange Visitors who are allowed to work and study based on certain prior approvals by the American and the domicile government of the exchanged individual.

Amidst a variety of other work visas, there is yet another which has the potential to take away some of the share of the visa load off the H1B pile. The O1, or the outstanding visa, is, as the name suggests, for outstanding individuals who are eligible to work in the US in the field they have managed to outshine in. While its preparation may seem a bit demanding, the processing time for O1 visa is surprisingly fast, opening up a window when the walls on H1B keep closing in.

So, in this article, we share some of the salient features you should know if you are looking to explore the other possibility of how to work in the US.

O1 Visa: What is it? Are you eligibile?


How is O1 visa different from H1B?

  • For an H1B visa, the USCIS begins accepting new H1B petitions at the beginning of the US fiscal year, or the first working day of April, and continues to accept them until the end of that year on September 30th.

    However, the cap is usually filled within the first few days of April, where employers file the I-129 petition, waiting for an approval, for the beneficiary to start working on October 1st. For an O1 visa, the form I-129 petition, for a non-immigrant worker, needs to be filed no more than 1 year before the start of the work date.

    But, there is no cap, which is one of the major glaring differences between the two. So, unlike H1B, it can be filed all year long as long the eligibility criteria are met satisfactorily. However, it is advised that O1 visas are filed at least 45 days before the start date of employment.


  • It may take an incredibly anxious 2-6 month wait for an H1B approval to come through. With an O1 visa, you may only need to keep your fingers crossed for about 2-3 weeks. So, for all those who don’t want to hunt for October and need to start working sooner, you can try your chance at this one. Of course, we will discuss the eligibility criteria that sets it apart.


  • Your H1B is valid for three years and with the latest reforms, it seems like there will no longer be an automatic deference to H1B renewals. The current administration has made sure that all H1B renewals are given the same amount of scrutiny as any new application would.

    And even with the renewal, you can at most claim another 3 years, after which you will need to visit your home country for at least one year to reset your H1B calendar. On the other hand, an O1 visa is valid for 3 years, after which it can be renewed yearly for as long as you have a valid employment.


  • An O1 visa can be renewed and carried on even after your I-140 petition, when your employer files to petition you to stay on a permanent basis, is filed.

    Since much of the criteria, as you will find out, considers the outstanding nature of the non-immigrant worker, some experts claim that the O1 visa to green card process is easier. It is easier to apply to the Green Card EB-1 category, from an O1 visa, as compared to transitioning from H1B to EB-1.

    The advantage being that EB-1 (for workers with outstanding accomplishments in science, business, education, and art), the processing times are far quicker than EB-2, the more common Green Card category among specialized workers with an advanced degree.

If you are a person extraordinaire´ in the field of arts, science, music, sports, business, and even the movie industry, you have a chance at nabbing the O1 visa. So, let us find what exactly defines your uber special status.

What is an O1 Visa?

O1A Visa is for applicants who have extraordinary achievements in science, education, business and sports. O1B involves extraordinary people in the field of arts, motion picture, and the television industry.

The criteria, though subjective, outlines one major feature. The applicants need to demonstrate that they are among the top few percentage in their field. This includes the following, to be presented, at the time of application. Some of these are taken into account as the eligibility criteria for O1 visa.

  • A form I-129 Petition for Non-Immigrant Worker, filed by the employer. The petition can only be filed within a year before employment is due to begin and preferably with 45 days cushion time.
  • A Consultation or a written approval from a peer group, such as a union or a management organization, vouching for the applicant’s talent. In the absence of such a peer group, an expert in the field can be consulted for the same.

    For instance, in the case of most professionals with an advanced degree, USCIS usually requires letters of recommendations from established academicians and coworkers, with an exemplary record of their own. When neither of those are present, the USCUS will consider the past record of the applicant.

  • The consultation can be waived if the applicant is re-entering within 2 years of providing a previous similar consultation.
  • In terms of evidentiary requirement to be eligible for O1 visa, the following maybe used as a guideline.
    • National or international awards in the field.
    • Members of organizations that require outstanding performance, recognized by experts.
    • Publications in renowned journals, newspapers etc.
    • Original scholarly contributions such as books, chapters etc.
    • High salary backed by employment contract.
    • Excellent reputation within the field.
    • For artists applying to the O1B category, recognized performance awards. Evidence of leading performances. National or international awards. Reviews by experts and critics, and a high salary always helps.
  • And finally, an evidence of a contract with the petitioner, the employer, and the beneficiary, or the applicant, is a necessity. Evidence should be documented that such an offer was floated and duly accepted. Signatures are not particularly necessary. Email conversations may also suffice.

If you happen to change employers, while on O1, the new employer must petition separately. For further details, you are strongly advised to follow the USCIS website.

USCIS has way more details and also updated information which, from the looks of the current environment, is subject to changes at any time. While this particular visa is understandably more stringent in its eligibility, it still provides a Plan B for deserving recruits who have not made it through the luck by chance lottery system or the capped limit for advanced degree holders. It is always good to have options.

Good Luck.
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Rakhi Acharyya
About Rakhi Acharyya
Rakhi is a freelance writer, a Physics PhD from Michigan State University, an ex-teacher and a former employee of Corporate America. Follow her on Twitter.

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