An O-2 visa is a temporary worker visa that is issued by the United States government. The O-1 visa is also a temporary worker visa that is issued by the U.S. government. O-1 visa holders are foreign nationals with extraordinary abilities in areas such as:

  • Arts;
  • Sciences;
  • Business; or
  • Athletics.

In order to be considered to have extraordinary abilities, the individual must have received national or international acclaim in their field. If they work in the motion picture of television production industries, they must have demonstrated a record of extraordinary achievement.

An O-1 visa can only be given on the basis of the applicant’s individual qualifications. An individual being a member of a team or group will not qualify an individual for an O-1 visa.

The individual must be coming to the United States to work or perform at an event or events in the area of their extraordinary ability. What is considered an event is interpreted broadly outside of the fields of arts and athletics and can include activities such as ongoing research projects for private companies.

An O-2 visa is related to the O-1 visa. The O-2 visa is a visa for those foreign nationals who will accompany the O-1 visa holder in order to assist the O-1 visa holder with their event or performance.

The O-2 visa applicant must possess critical skills and experience related to the O-1 artist or athlete applicant that are neither of a general nature nor possessed by a United States worker. If the O-1 applicant is applying based on extraordinary achievement, the O-2 visa applicant must demonstrate their long standing work relationship and that they are essential to the completion of the production.

The application process for both an O-1 and O-2 visa is intensive, as will be discussed below. It is extremely important to consult with an attorney for the application process to ensure all requirements are met.

How Do I Obtain an O-2 Visa?

An O-2 visa is for individuals who provide essential and direct assistance with an individual who has an O-1 visa for an athletic, artistic, or motion picture activity. O-2 visas are not for individuals who assist in undertakings that are:

  • Medical;
  • Scientific;
  • Educational; or
  • Business related.

The O-2 visa holder provides assistance that is an integral part of the O-1 visa holder’s activity.

How Do I Show Extraordinary Ability?

An O-1 visa applicant must be able to demonstrate extraordinary ability as well as receipt of sustained national or international claim for their abilities. Extraordinary ability may be shown by receipt of a major internationally recognized award, such as an Olympic medal or a Pulitzer prize, or by accomplishing at least three of the following:

  • Receiving a nationally recognized prize or award for excellence;
  • Attaining membership in an association that requires outstanding achievements of its own members in a particular field of expertise, as judged by recognized national or international experts;
  • Being the subject of a published material in a professional publication or a major trade publication or major media regarding the applicant and their work;
  • Having participated in or on a panel or individually judging the work of others in the field;
  • Making an original scientific, scholarly, or business-related contribution of major significance to their field;
  • Having authored a scholarly article or articles in professional journals or major media;
  • Having been previously employed in a critical or an essential capacity for an organization with a distinguished reputation; or
  • Having command or having commanded a high salary or other outstanding remuneration for their services.

If the applicant cannot satisfy the above criteria readily in their application, the company filing the application may submit comparable evidence to demonstrate the individual is extraordinary. The petitioning company should carefully explain why the above criteria do not apply to the applicant.

How Do I Demonstrate Extraordinary Ability in the Arts?

If an individual is applying for an O-1 visa in the arts, they should ensure their work fits in the immigration law definition of art. The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) defines are broadly. It may include any field of creative activity or endeavor, such as:

  • Fine arts;
  • Visual arts;
  • Culinary arts;
  • Performing arts; and
  • Other arts.

It is important to note that the field of art includes the principal creator and performer as well as other essential individuals, including:

  • Directors;
  • Set designers;
  • Lighting designers;
  • Sound designers;
  • Choreographers;
  • Choreologists;
  • Conductors;
  • Orchestrators;
  • Coaches;
  • Arrangers;
  • Musical supervisors;
  • Costume designers;
  • Makeup artists;
  • Flight masters;
  • Stage technicians; and
  • Animal trainers.

The individual must be traveling to the United States to perform in the area of their extraordinary ability. In order to demonstrate recognition as a prominent artist in their field, they must supply documents demonstrating they have been nominated for or have received a significant national or international award or prize in their field, such as:

  • An Oscar;
  • An Emmy;
  • A Grammy; or
  • A Director’s Guild Award.

The employer filing the O-1 visa petition may submit 3 of the following forms of documentation if the individuals does not satisfy the above requirements:

  • Evidence that the individual has performed and will perform as the lead role or a starring participant in a production or event that has a distinguished reputation, which can be demonstrated by:
    • critical reviews;
    • advertisements;
    • publicity releases;
    • publication contracts; or
    • endorsements.
  • Evidence that the individual has achieved national or international recognition, or both, for their achievements. This may be shown by critical reviews or other published materials regarding the individual in:
    • a major newspaper;
    • a trade journal
    • a magazine; or
    • another publication.
  • Evidence that the individual has performed and will perform in a lead, starring, or critical role for an organization and establishment that has a distinguished reputation which may be show by articles in:
    • newspapers;
    • trade journals;
    • publications; or
    • testimonials.
  • Evidence that the individual has a record of major commercial or critically acclaimed success;
  • Evidence that the individual has received significant recognition for achievements from organizations, critics, or other recognized experts in the field. The testimonials must be in a form clearly indicating the author’s authority, expertise, and knowledge of the individual’s achievements;
  • Evidence that the individual has either commanded a high salary or will command a high salary or other substantial remuneration for their services as compared to others in the same field. This can be demonstrated by contracts or other reliable evidence.

If the individual cannot satisfy the above criteria, their petitioning employer may submit alternative evidence that is comparable to establish their extraordinary ability.

What are the Advantages and Disadvantages of the O-2 Visa?

The O-2 visa has advantages and disadvantages. These include:

  • O visas are issued relatively quickly;
  • An O visa holder may work legally in the United States for the O visa sponsor. If the O visa holder wants to change jobs, however, they must obtain a new visa;
  • An O visa is granted for the length of time necessary for a particular event. The visa is issued for a maximum of 3 years had as unlimited extensions that are provided in 1 year increments;
  • The O visa holder and their family may travel in and out of the United States or stay during the duration of the visa, as long as the visa stamp and status are valid;
  • The O visa holder’s spouse and unmarried children under the age of 21 may accompany them but they may not accept employment while in the United States.

Do I Need a Lawyer to Apply for an O-2 Visa?

Yes, it is essential to have an experienced immigration lawyer assist you with your O-2 visa application. An attorney can advise you on whether you fulfill the requirements for an O-2 visa. Your lawyer can also help you complete the application paperwork, ensure it is complete and accurate, and advise you on the process of obtaining the O-2 visa.

There may also be other visa types that are available to you, depending on your situation. There may also be other individuals who wish to accompany you when you come to the United States. Your lawyer can assist you with obtaining an O-3 visa for individuals such as spouses and dependent children you may want to bring with you if you enter on an O-2 visa.