University of Michigan
International Center

home | immigration & visas | visa categories for u-m faculty & staff | o-1 visa

O-1 Visa - Aliens of Extraordinary Ability

Eligibility Criteria

The O-1 category is available to foreign nationals who have extraordinary ability in science, art, education, business, or athletics which has been demonstrated by sustained national or international acclaim and whose achievements have been recognized in the field through extensive documentation. Extraordinary ability is a high level of expertise and indicates that the person is one of a small percentage who has risen to the very top of the field. The foreign national must seek to enter the United States to continue work in the area in which he or she is extraordinary.

The O-1 visa category has the following key features:

  • U-M must file the O-1 petition; prospective employees cannot obtain O-1 visas on their own.
  • An offer of employment is required, along with supporting evidence of extraordinary ability.
  • Employment under the O-1 category is limited to the specific department who sponsored the O-1 and to the employment specified in the I-129 petition. It is possible to have multiple concurrent O-1 petitions.
  • U-M can file an O-1 petition up to 6 months before the intended start date.
  • Foreign nationals subject to the 212(e) Two-Year Foreign Residency Requirement are eligible for the O-1 classification, but they cannot change from J-1 to O-1 status within the U.S. They must apply for the O-1 visa abroad and re-enter the U.S.
  • The hiring department is responsible for the return cost of transportation if the foreign national is dismissed before the petition period expires.

Length of Stay in the U.S.

  • An O-1 petition has an initial period of stay of up to 3 years.
  • Subsequent extensions may last for no more than one year at a time. There is no limit to the number of extensions.
  • Extensions may be granted indefinitely if the need for the continued employment remains.
  • An O-1 employee for whom an extension petition has been filed can continue working for the department while the extension request is pending with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) for up to 240 days beyond the expiration of the previously authorized stay.

Processing Times

The O-1 petition and approval process takes approximately 3 to 4 months. U-M can submit an O-1 up to 6 months before the intended start date. If needed, USCIS offers an option for expediting O-1 petitions called “premium processing.” There is a special fee for this service in addition to the normal USCIS filing fee. For information on the latest O-1 fees, refer to the Fee Schedule for Employment-Based Visas. pdf icon

Premium processing can reduce O-1 processing times significantly. However, you should be aware that premium processing only promises a response to the petition within 15 days. If USCIS requires additional information, they may respond with a Request for Evidence (RFE). Once USCIS receives the additional evidence that you submit in response, the 15-day clock begins again. USCIS approval of the O-1 visa petition is not guaranteed within 15 days.


The hiring department is responsible for paying the legal fees, filing fees and costs associated with the O-1 petition. The foreign national is responsible for paying dependent and visa related fees. For a listing of the latest fees, refer to the Fee Schedule for Employment-Based Visas. pdf icon

How to Apply for an O-1 Visa

University of Michigan sponsored O-1 and O-1 extension cases must be processed by attorneys officially retained by the U-M Office of the Vice President and General Counsel. For additional information, refer to Retained Immigration Attorney Process. To request an immigration attorney, complete and submit the Request for Retained Immigration Counsel Form to the U-M International Center.

Documentation Needed

The following documentation is needed to petition for an O-1 visa:

  • Formal job offer letter. The offer letter must specify the dates for which work authorization is requested.
  • Documentation to support evidence of extraordinary ability in science, art, education, business, or athletics. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) regulations provide two bases (Basis A and B, described below) for showing evidence of extraordinary ability.

Basis A: Receipt of a Nobel Prize Caliber Award

An individual may qualify for the O-1 category based on the receipt of the Nobel Prize or other award of similar international standing.

Basis B: Documentation Showing Extraordinary Ability

The individual must demonstrate at least three of the following:

  • Receipt of nationally or internationally recognized awards or prizes for excellence in his/her field.
  • Membership in associations in the field of extraordinary ability, which require outstanding achievement for membership, as judged by national or international experts.
  • Citations in professional publications, written by others about the individual's work in the field. Include the title, date, and author and any translation, if necessary.
  • Participation on a panel or as a judge of the work of others in the same or an allied field.
  • Original scientific, scholarly or business contributions of major significance to the field.
  • Authorship of scholarly articles in the field in professional journals or major media.
  • Previous employment in a critical capacity for organizations and/or establishments that have a distinguished reputation.
  • Evidence of high salary or other significantly high remuneration for services in relation to others in the field, as proven by contracts or other evidence.

Merely providing three sources of evidence does not establish that the foreign national possesses extraordinary ability. USCIS considers the quality of the evidence provided and not just whether the minimum amount of documentation has been submitted.

Documented evidence for an O-1 petition may be in the form of:

  • Affidavits, contracts, awards, or other documentation reflecting the nature of the foreign national's achievements certified by an officer or responsible person employed where the work was performed.
  • Affidavits written by present and/or former employers or recognized experts attesting to the reputation and extraordinary ability of the foreign national.

Photocopies of all documents are acceptable. All documents that are not in English must be accompanied by a certified translation pdf icon


Spouse and dependents (unmarried children under 21 years of age) of O-1 workers are eligible for O-3 status. No employment is permitted for O-3 dependents. Individuals in O-3 status may attend academic institutions as long as the educational program does not include paid employment (e.g, co-op or research assistantship).

Travel Outside the U.S. and Reentry

When a foreign national in O-1 status wishes to leave the United States temporarily and return to continue his or her approved employment, he or she must carry appropriate documentation to gain reentry to the U.S. Reentry documentation generally includes:

  • Original I-797 O-1 approval notice
  • Letter verifying the O-1 worker's employment
  • Passport valid for 6 months after intended re-entry date
  • Valid O-1 visa

Last reviewed: 1/09