Start-up founders: is the O-1 visa right for you?

The O-1 nonimmigrant visa is for the individual who possesses extraordinary ability in the sciences, arts, education, business, or athletics, or who has a demonstrated record of extraordinary achievement in the motion picture or television industry and has been recognized nationally or internationally for those achievements.

The O nonimmigrant classification is commonly referred to as:

  • O-1A: individuals with an extraordinary ability in the sciences, education, business, or athletics (not including the arts, motion pictures or television industry)

  • O-1B: individuals with an extraordinary ability in the arts or extraordinary achievement in motion picture or television industry

  • O-2: individuals who will accompany an O-1, artist or athlete, to assist in a specific event or performance.  For an O-1A, the O-2’s assistance must be an “integral part” of the O-1A’s activity. For an O-1B, the O-2’s assistance must be “essential” to the completion of the O-1B’s production. The O-2 worker has critical skills and experience with the O-1 that cannot be readily performed by a U.S. worker and which are essential to the successful performance of the O-1

  • O-3: individuals who are the spouse or children of O-1’s and O-2’s

To qualify for an O-1 visa, the beneficiary must demonstrate extraordinary ability by sustained national or international acclaim and must be coming temporarily to the United States to continue work in the area of extraordinary ability.

Extraordinary ability in the fields of science, education, business or athletics means a level of expertise indicating that the person is one of the small percentage who has risen to the very top of the field of endeavor.

Extraordinary ability in the field of arts means distinction.  Distinction means a high level of achievement in the field of the arts evidenced by a degree of skill and recognition substantially above that ordinarily encountered to the extent that a person described as prominent is renowned, leading, or well-known in the field of arts.

So what type of evidence would support the application of a start-up founder or start-up employee with a background in technology, business or science?

Generally speaking, being selected as part of an accelerator program can help an O-1 application, if the program is in and of itself highly selective. In addition, press and published articles surrounding the individual’s skillset or work product is also a strong indicator of extraordinary ability. If the individual has been critical in a previous role he/she has worked in and will continue to play a critical role in the future position, this will greatly benefit his/her application. In addition, letters of reference from a mix of experts including business leaders, venture capitalists, professors and the like are another critical element of a strong O-1 application. Finally, a significant amount of capital raised may be beneficial in showing the strength of one’s idea, product and business concept, and can be evidence that the individual is in a small percentage at the top of their field.

These are general guidelines to begin planning for an O-1 application. Of course, the O-1 is a complex process, which requires specific planning based on each individual and his/her profile. If you think you might qualify, please have your case assessed.



This website constitutes attorney advertising. The information provided is general in nature and should not be construed as legal advice.


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