O-1 Visa for Individuals of Extraordinary Ability

The O-1 visa category is designated for individuals of extraordinary ability in the sciences, arts, or education. The University usually files O-1 visa petitions for faculty and research scholars. Deciding whether a scholar qualifies for the O visa is often difficult. After reviewing the criteria listed below, it is essential to speak to an advisor in the HIO to discuss the scholar's eligibility.

Characteristics of the O-1 Visa

The O-1 visa may be valid for an initial period of three years and may be extended indefinitely in one-year increments.

J-1 visa holders may be able to obtain an O-1 visa even if they are subject to the two-year home residency requirement. Being in the O-1 visa status does not waive the requirement, but postpone the requirement for the time the individual holds O-1 status. In such cases, the individual would have to leave the United States and re-enter in O-1 status once the petition is approved.

Dependents of the O-1 visa holder are classified in O-3 status and are not eligible for employment under any circumstances.

O-1 Visa Eligibility Requirements

An O-1 visa petition must demonstrate the applicant's ability through the eligibility requirements described below. To qualify as an individual of extraordinary ability there must be evidence of the applicant's having received a major internationally recognized award such as the Nobel Prize, or at least three of the following:

  • Receipt of lesser nationally or internationally recognized prizes or awards for excellence in the field.
  • Membership in associations in the field that require outstanding achievements of their members, as judged by recognized experts in the field.
  • Evidence of authorship of scholarly articles in the field, in professional journals, or other major media.
  • Published material in professional or major trade publications or major media about applicant's work.
  • Evidence of participation on a panel, or individually, as the judge of the work of others in the field.
  • Evidence in the form of five or six letters and affidavits from prominent colleagues who can confirm applicant's original scientific or scholarly contributions of major significance to the field. Regulations require a "peer group" must attest to the applicant's outstanding qualifications. We have found that this requirement may be fulfilled by letters of recommendation in which the referees outline their own standing in the field.
  • Evidence of employment in a critical or essential capacity for organizations and establishments that have a distinguished reputation.
  • Evidence of commanding a high salary or other compensation for services (this category does not usually apply to academic positions).

The United States Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS) decides whether an individual qualifies for O-1 classification. The O-1 visa is employer specific, which means that an a USCIS approved petition that was submitted by the HIO only authorizes the scholar to work in the position specified in the petition filed by Harvard. A scholar who has an O-1 approval from another employer is not eligible to work at Harvard. An O-1 visa holder may work for more than one employer, but each employer must file a separate visa petition.