Are you looking into getting an O-1 visa as someone with extraordinary ability in your field? You may be wondering- how can I qualify for an O-1B visa?


Fiona McEntee, an experienced immigration attorney with over 16 years in the field, has some invaluable insights into navigating the O-1B visa criteria. Fiona also regularly speaks on the O-1 visa including leading panels and teaching other immigration lawyers about this option at our national bar association conferences (AILA).


The O-1B visa is for those with exceptional talents in arts, including creative fields, content creators, influencers, those who work in motion picture, or television, which is different to the O-1A visa, which focuses on business, science, education, and athletics.


Understanding the O-1B Boxes


To qualify for the O-1B visa, you are aiming to check 3 out of a potential 6 boxes. If the boxes don’t fit your occupation, it may be possible to use “comparable evidence” instead.


So, what’s in these boxes and how do we check them? Let’s unpack them below!


Lead or Starring Roles in Distinguished Productions or Events

This box is a favorite of ours especially for those in content creation or performing arts. To check this box, we need to show that you have – and will – perform services as a lead or starring participant in distinguished productions or events.


Lead role may be shown by you having a principal role in the production/event. Starring role means a position of prominence relative to others in the event/production. As evidence of your role, we submit documentation that shows you were highlighted or featured in advertisements, publicity releases, critical reviews, or other materials. We can also show any contracts, brand deals etc. you have for the production/event and this can be an online event like a campaign.


To show distinguished nature of the production/event, we can look to favorable critical reception, high attendance levels, high number of eyeballs/impressions, commercial success, or other indicators.


To show distinguished nature of future productions/events, we can look to advance publicity, endorsements, reputation of similar past productions/events by the same individuals or entities or other evidence regarding the level of anticipation of the relevant event/production.


While checking this box requires us to show future distinguished productions/events, these do not necessarily have to be in the U.S. (although ideally, they are because that supports the need to get the O-1 visa).


Lead, Starring or Critical Roles for Distinguished Organizations or Establishments

Another favorite box of ours, and similar to Box number 1, this criterion requires us to show that you have been – and will be – in a lead, starring, or critical role with renowned organizations or establishments.


Similar to the first, this criterion emphasizes your involvement in leading, starring, or critical capacities within renowned organizations or establishments. The emphasis here is on the impact and importance of your role in these distinguished settings, highlighting your contributions to their success.


Lead role may be shown by you having a principal role in the organization/establishment. Starring role means a position of prominence relative to others in the organization/establishment. Critical role can be shown by documenting that you have or will contribute in a way that is of significant importance to the organization or establishment’s activities. We would look to show that your role has been or will be integral or important to the organization or establishment’s goals or activities, especially in relation to others in similar positions within the organization.


Detailed testimonial letters can be very helpful to document this and like with box number 1, we have to show that the organization/establishment is distinguished, and we can do that by showing the customer base, longevity, or relevant media coverage of the company.


It’s also important to note that you don’t have to have worked as a direct employee for an organization in order to check this box. We can potentially use this if you’ve provided services to a client, worked as a freelancer, or otherwise had a critical or essential impact on that company.


Finally, brand deals can also work great here and it’s important to note that we can use one piece of evidence to check more than one box. For example, say you have a brand deal with a distinguished organization to do a promotional campaign for them. We can use evidence of this to potentially check box 1 and box 2.


Critical Reviews or Other Published Material in Major Publications


We call this the “press” box. To check it, we need to show that you have received national or international recognition for your achievements by critical reviews or other published materials by or about you in major newspapers, trade journals, magazines, or other publications.


Achieving recognition through critical reviews or published materials in major media outlets underscores your influence and standing in your field. This criterion seeks to validate your accomplishments through the lens of press coverage, focusing on pieces that discuss your work and its significance.


To check this box, we need to show that you are recognized for achievements nationally or internationally, in the form of:

  • Critical reviews or other published material in major newspapers, trade journals magazines or other publications (which may include online publications or a transcript of radio or video coverage) and
  • These must be either by you OR about you.


The USCIS has acknowledged that the piece does not have to be only about you – a piece that covers a broader topic but includes a substantial discussion of you and your work may be used to check this box. However, a piece that includes only brief citation or passing reference to you and your work likely won’t qualify. Also, material may be considered by you even if you are one of multiple authors.


Also, not every publication is going to qualify, and we should be selective about the pieces we consider for this. The publications need to be major newspapers, trade journals, magazines, or other publications, and the circulation, readership, or viewership of the publication is important.


Finally, it’s important to be aware that we do not have to check the press box. Some people think press is a prerequisite to getting an O-1 visa but it’s not – it’s just 1 of a potential 6 boxes we can check.


Major Commercial or Critically Acclaimed Successes

To check this box, we need to show evidence in the form of publications (print or online publications or transcripts of radio or video coverage) that show your record of major commercial or critically acclaimed successes.


As with the press box, the publication does not have to be primarily about you, and it may be about a production in which you performed. However, we need to show how the production’s major commercial or critically acclaimed success represents your success by attributing it to you (at least in part) based on the significance of your contributions.


For commercial success, the publication should reflect that the ratings, receipts, sales, revenue, standing, or other achievement represent major successes in the field.


For critically acclaimed success, the evidence should show that your work has received public-facing praise or positive reviews in the relevant field, such as from professional art, television, or film critics.


Your commercial success or critical acclaim, evidenced through ratings, box office receipts, or other objective measures, speaks volumes about your extraordinary ability. This criterion evaluates the tangible impact of your work on the industry and its reception by audiences and critics alike.


Significant Recognition from Experts in the Field

Another favorite box of our, we call this the standalone “expert letter” category. The great thing about the O-1B visa is that – unlike the O-1A – we can use expert letters as its own standalone box, and we often do!


To check this box, we need to show that you have received significant recognition for achievements, from organizations, critics, government agencies, or other recognized experts in the field.


Testimonial letters play a pivotal role in this criterion, offering a qualitative assessment of your achievements and recognition within your field. It’s important to be selective about who you pick to write these expert letters (we can help with this) and ideally, we have a variety of experts from both inside and outside the U.S. And the content of the letters is key. The expert must establish themselves as an expert. They must also provide lots of specific info on the significance of your achievements and not just talk about your work ethic and the quality of your character because while that’s important in life, being a good person and a hard worker is not going to qualify you for an O-1 visa.


If you’ve received awards, certificates, honors etc. from organizations or entities, we can also use them to support the checking of this box.


High Salary or Significant Remuneration

Commanding a high salary or significant remuneration relative to others in your field serves as a testament to your extraordinary ability. This financial benchmark – compared to industry standards – highlights the value and demand for your unique talents.


We can check this box if you have earned a high salary or have commanded significant remuneration for your services OR if you will in the future (as evidence by documentation like contracts or evidence of the organization’s capacity to provide such compensation.)


We do need to show that your compensation is high compared to others in your field and to do this, we need to pull wage data as a basis for comparison. If you have been working outside the U.S., we would evaluate the wage statistics or comparable evidence for that location as opposed to comparing it to a U.S. salary.


Note that you don’t have to have a traditional “salary” to check this box. We can use once off deals, and they can be especially helpful to show high renumeration especially if we can quantify the time involved in this – e.g. several thousand in compensation for a video that takes 2 minutes etc.


Beyond the Boxes: Comparable Evidence

For those whose occupations may not fit neatly into these boxes, the O-1B visa application process allows for the submission of “comparable evidence”.


To use comparable evidence for a box, we need to show why that box is not readily applicable to your occupation. We are not required to show that all or a majority of the criteria do not readily apply to your occupation. Instead, we must explain why that particular box does not apply and how the submitted evidence is “comparable” to that criterion.


The flexibility of comparable evidence accommodates unique cases by considering alternative proofs of extraordinary ability and can offer an alternative path to demonstrating extraordinary ability.


Final Thoughts


Getting an O-1B visa requires a comprehensive showcase of your extraordinary abilities and achievements but the benefits are tremendous including getting an initial approval for up to 3 years, no yearly cap, and potentially putting yourself in a good position to qualify for an EB-1A green card for which you can fully self-petition.


Beyond check the O-1B boxes, you must have a petitioner (but you can own the petitioning entity), and must also demonstrate that you intend to continue working in your field of expertise.


While the standard for the O-1 is high, it can work really well for lots of people so please don’t be put off by the term “extraordinary”. After all, you may be more extraordinary than you think!


For more personalized guidance, consider reaching out to an experienced immigration attorney.


If you have questions or need assistance with your O-1 visa application, feel free to contact us an O-1 visa attorney at McEntee Law Group. Our team is dedicated to supporting you in navigating your immigration journey and O-1B visas are a favorite of ours!



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