The Key to an Effective O-1A Visa Expert Opinion Letter
By: Rebecca Anderson
What is an O-1 Visa?
According to the Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, “an O-1 nonimmigrant visa is available for the individual who possesses an extraordinary ability in the sciences, arts, education, business, or athletics, or who has a demonstrated record of astonishing achievement in the motion picture or television industry and has been recognized nationally or internationally for those achievements.” The O-1A visa, in particular, is for individuals with extraordinary ability in the sciences, education, business, or athletics.
These visas are a beautiful thing. First of all, they are the only non-specific work visa, and while candidates must show a letter of intent for future work, they are by no means bound to any single position or company after their petition is accepted. What’s more, you don’t need a company to sponsor you; any US citizen or green card holder can act as an “agent” and sponsor you, the candidate. And yes, that includes friends, family, and significant others. For these reasons, shooting for an O-1 is a great idea, so long as you can put together the right argument.
What are the Criteria for an O-1A Visa?
Obtaining an O-1A visa can be a bit stressful without proper guidance. Miss just one step and so begins the relentless kickback of documents between the candidate, lawyers, attorneys, experts, and evaluators—and trust us, USCIS is not so forgiving come filing time. Let’s start with the basics of filing an O-1A visa letter. Fulfilling the “extraordinary ability” requirements is the key component of any O-1A petition. But how is this criterion met, you ask? By meeting three of eight simple guidelines:
- Receipt of nationally or internationally recognized prizes or awards for excellence in the field of endeavor;
- Membership in associations in the field for which classification is sought which require outstanding achievements, as judged by recognized national or international experts in the field;
- Published material in professional or major trade publications, newspapers or other major media about the beneficiary and the beneficiary’s work in the field for which classification is sought;
- Original scientific, scholarly, or business-related contributions of major significance in the field;
- Authorship of scholarly articles in professional journals or other major media in the field for which classification is sought;
- A high salary or other remuneration for services as evidenced by contracts or other reliable evidence;
- Participation on a panel, or individually, as a judge of the work of others in the same or in a field of specialization allied to that field for which classification is sought;
- Employment in a critical or essential capacity for organizations and establishments that have a distinguished reputation.
What Does a Candidate Need for an Expert Letter?
First and foremost, the most important thing to do is decide which of these criteria you can confidently say you meet. Your task then is to put together the evidence that definitively proves these points. This can include articles and other publications, white papers and other documents describing your work and achievements, past salary statements, and, perhaps most importantly, reference letters from prior employers and coworkers attesting to your accomplishments and success.
Why would a Candidate Need an Expert for Their Case?
With all of this varied evidence, it’s important to be able to compile it into a coherent picture, one that the USCIS officer assigned to you case can immediately recognize as a strong O-1 petition. That’s where we come in. At Park Evaluations, we connect you with experts in your field capable of providing an independent voice of authority that not only acknowledges your extraordinary ability, but also analyzes its specific details and how it satisfies the requirements laid out by the government.
Let’s Take an Example…
Ms. Jones, a successful business development manager at a major tech company, has decided to apply for an O-1A visa. According to her support letter sent to Park Evaluations, she has “been invited to be the keynote speaker at a variety of industry conferences and has a history of helping major tech companies break into new markets.” This alone indicates that she has achieved distinction beyond what is ordinarily encountered in the tech industry.
The key word here is distinction. USCIS is looking for a high-level of achievement in their O-1A visa applicants; this is, after all, the extraordinary ability visa. It was clear to us that Ms. Jones had obtained those qualities in the area of business, evidenced by her years of experience and lengthy resume of accomplishments and skills.
Specifically, Ms. Jones met four of the eight criteria of the extraordinary ability definition. She had:
- Been covered in major media and trade publications;
- Been employed in an essential capacity at a number of large tech companies;
- Made original business-related contributions in the form of unique management and business development strategies in the tech sector; and
- Commanded a high salary for services in relation to others in the field.
Again, it’s important to remember that you only need to meet three of the eight criteria for the O1 visa. And you definitely don’t want to stretch it: if you try to convince USCIS that the picture of you in your college newspaper satisfies the “authorship of scholarly articles” criterion, they may very well decide to call not only that specific point but the entire case into question.
Ms. Jones had her success and career achievements covered in highly acclaimed publications such as The New York Times, New York Post, Business Insider, MIT Technology Review, and others. She worked for Microsoft and IBM, managing their regional offices and their development of new software products, and in doing so made original contributions to business development strategies in the field. This, along with the prestige of her current position and her competitive salary, landed her in the realm of extraordinary ability.
Park Evaluations Can Help!
Applying for an O-1A visa is always stressful, but with the right experience and competent experts in your corner, it’s difficult for USCIS to ignore your qualifications. This is where we can help. Park has an extensive range of highly qualified professors and department heads ready to dive down into the details of your case and come back up with a comprehensive and compelling argument for your extraordinary ability. For O-1A’s in particular, due to the nature of the petition, our experts work to provide personalized, in-depth analyses based on both the documents you provide and their own research and knowledge of the industry. The O-1A opinion letter does more than simply qualify the candidate, it helps frame the entire petition and gather your various pieces of evidence into a clear narrative, signed by a qualified expert
As an Operations Analyst at Park Evaluations, Rebecca Anderson works with the proofing team to review evaluation letters for candidates looking to attain their visa of choice. When not at the office, Rebecca devotes time to curating news and kickboxing.
Ryan Mernin also contributed to this blog.