The O-1 visa for Artists: What “Extraordinary Ability” Means

As you may know, the O-1 “extraordinary ability” visa is intended for just that—individuals with extraordinary ability. “Extraordinary” is obviously a strong word and, by definition, it can’t apply to a great many people in a given area. However, don’t let this dissuade or discourage you—it is probably not as restrictive as you would think.

So, what is extraordinary ability, exactly? What does it actually mean to be extraordinary for the purposes of qualifying for an O-1 visa? The law includes several different descriptions of extraordinary ability. For example, it mentions that the O-1 beneficiary has “risen to the very top of the field of endeavor” and has achieved “distinction.” Nonetheless, these different descriptions of extraordinary ability point to the same basic idea. Generally, to be “extraordinary” means more than reaching a level of ability that is uncommonly high. It also means having distinguished oneself to the point of having received significant recognition from others in the field. You will need to be able to demonstrate these factors through documentation, which is described in the next section.

Another important requirement of the O visa is that the beneficiary cannot petition for the O-1 on his or her own behalf. In other words, the person who receives the visa (the beneficiary) can’t be the one who applies for it (the petitioner). As the talented individual, you must find a petitioner who will apply with USCIS for you. So, not only do you have to be “extraordinary,” but you need to find someone or some organization in the United States that values your ability to the point that they’re willing to enter into a legal process on your behalf. While this may sound difficult, it is likely to be easier than it sounds. For one, there are few constraints on who can act as a sponsor. To give you an idea, it could be an employer, an agent, a manager, or even a performance venue.

To review, if you believe you might have “extraordinary” ability, and if you have—or believe you might find—someone willing to apply on your behalf, then you very well may qualify for the O visa. However, it is not enough to have considerable talent and ability. You must be able to prove it with the necessary documentation, and this is what we will discuss next. In another blog, I discuss the kinds of documentation that a well-prepared application should include.  

Vaughan de Kirby
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San Francisco California EB-5 Investment Immigration Attorney