Virginia, US
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| Lisa Koenig

O-1 Visas - Not as Difficult as You Would Think

Not Shakira or Elton John? No worries.
Even if you don’t have an Emmy, Oscar, or Nobel Prize (and how many do?), your field of specialty may very well lend itself to consideration for an O-1 visa. The O-1 can be fast-tracked and approved in a manner of weeks, and is not subject to visa quotas, as are other commonly-used categories such as the H-1B.
In these days of overnight YouTube sensations, rising blogger dominance, and a strong start-up culture,  it is not uncommon to see strong O-1-worthy cases based on the novel offerings the foreign national employee may bring to the table, even at an early stage in their career.
Often, prospective visa applicants are intimidated by the eligibility criteria associated with the O-1 visa for individuals who have shown extraordinary ability in the arts, science, business or athletics, and motion picture and television.
As such, they may be preempting themselves from a flexible category that can accommodate wide professional versatility. The added bonus of this category is that it also helps to lay the foundation for pursuing a solid green card path under the similar, albeit harder to prove, immigrant visa category for individuals of extraordinary ability.
 While most commonly associated with performing artists, the O-1 visa is also widely available for any number of professions including makeup artists, cross-cultural copywriters, strategic planners, IT architects for hedge funds, personal chefs, Wall Street traders, marketing managers, and human resource directors, to name just a few.
Context is key
The ultimate success of a case will hinge on developing a creative and relevant strategy for demonstrating through supporting evidence how the candidate’s abilities are extraordinary. Social media certainly presents a new medium that can be best leveraged in this regard.
Recently, I was hired to help a very seasoned horse trainer consider her visa options. My client regularly worked with two-year-old thoroughbred racehorses to help get them ready to participate in major competitions such as the Kentucky Derby, the Breeder’s Cup, and the Preakness Stakes. She cared for the horses, as would an Olympic trainer, making sure they were in peak condition to perform at their best.
As a behind-the-scenes actor in a high profile/high stakes arena, our client was concerned that she would not be able to establish her eligibility for the role.  The picture that ultimately emerged was one of a person who had reached the top of her field, which was by its nature, private, and not very well-publicized. We succeeded in establishing eligibility by showing that the measure of this role was to be taken not necessarily from awards or earnings our client won directly, but rather, on other contextual factors: the stables on whose behalf she worked; the stables’ strong track record of success; the number and type of championships they had won; the prices their racehorses command in the open market; and who and how many others in her field were doing what she was doing.
Boldly Bypassing Intermediary Steps
Many of our clients’ work is so specialized and noteworthy that it lends itself to seeking a premier visa such as the O-1, rather than pursuing the more traditional F-1 to H-1B to green card route. This even holds true for individuals who are in the earlier stages of their career. Working in New York City with many international advertising and communications industry clients, we often see talented foreign nationals emerging from F-1 student visa status (coming out of art and design programs), bypassing the tricky H-1B slopes that are subject to quotas and lotteries, and going straight for the brass ring of a three-year O-1 visa.
The added bonus is that going for the stretch goal has the ancillary but important effect of bolstering the foreign national's career.  As a potential O-1, a foreign national may be more mindful of establishing outside measures of success early on, and more apt to pursue related professional activities (for which they may have previously thought themselves too busy) in an effort to develop a strong O-1 dossier.
Prepare/Don’t Preempt
Don’t rule out the O-1 before you carefully consider it as a meaningful option. You’ll be glad  you did.