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The O-1 Visa: Understanding the Approval Process

July 21, 2023
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The O-1 Extraordinary Ability Visa is a versatile option for skilled professionals in various fields, often misunderstood as exclusive to Nobel Prize winners. This article reveals its high approval rates and benefits compared to the H-1B visa, shedding light on attainability.

The O-1 Extraordinary Ability Visa is a non-immigrant visa for people who have extraordinary ability and skill either in the sciences, education, business, athletics, arts, television, or the motion picture industry.

As you see, it’s a versatile option for all sorts of skilled professionals. That includes cross-cultural copywriters, IT architects, personal chefs, marketing managers, Wall Street traders, makeup artists, strategic planners, human resource directors, and more.

Yet unlike the H-1B, the O-1 visa has not gained widespread recognition, partly due to the misconception that only individuals with exceptional levels of distinction (such as Nobel Prize winners) are eligible. But, you’d be surprised to know the approval rates of the O-1 over the past five years.

DISCLAIMER: None of the information in this guide is, or should be construed as legal advice. The information shared is for general purposes only. Please consult with a licensed immigration lawyer to work on your O-1 application

Also Read: The Ultimate Guide To Getting Your O-1 Visa

Difference Between O-1 Visa and H-1B Visa

Before we talk about the approval rates though, let's explore some of the benefits that make it stand out compared to the popular H-1B work visa.

O-1 Visa H-1B Cap Visa
No cap on the number of visas issued annually. Capped at 85,000 visas per year. 65,000 to every applicant. 20,000 for advanced degree applicants.
Can apply anytime. First register for the lottery window that opens in March, and then apply if selected in the lottery.
If approved, status change to O-1 can be immediate. If approved, the status change to H-1B is only effective in October
No limitation on visa duration. Visa limited to 6 years.
Can be extended indefinitely after the first three years. After 6 years, you need to leave, change your visa, or have started the GC process
No minimum salary Minimum salary to be paid based on Wage data published by U.S. DOL
Faster path to getting EB-1 Extraordinary Ability GC due to similarity in requirements Getting H-1B does not have any immediate bearing on getting EB-1 Extraordinary Ability GC.
No need for a direct relationship between your education and the O-1 field. Direct relationship is expected between your education and work.

Now, let’s take a look at the approval rates over the past few years.

Also Read: The O-1 visa vs H-1B: A Detailed Comparison

O-1 Visa Approval Rates: Exploring Your Chances of Getting Approved

Here's some encouraging news: since 1995, the annual issuance of O-1 visas has shown a nearly exponential increase, doubling approximately every decade!

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Figure: A graph of O-1 visa stamps issued by U.S. consulates following O-1 petition approval by USCIS. If you didn’t already guess, the big dip in 2020 and 2021 was due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Figure: A graph of the percentage of O-1 visas approved versus the total number of applications per year.

The approval rate for an O-1 has consistently stayed above 90%, except for a slight dip in 2020. This isn’t to say that the approval rate will continue to stay above 90% in the future, or that you have a high chance of getting it if you apply. Rather, this is to show you that despite the pompous name given to the O-1 visa – that it’s for “aliens of extraordinary ability” – these numbers and the growth rate are proof of its growing attainability. So, if you can build a plan tailored to your profile that meets the requirements, then you too have a shot at it, just as much as other seemingly ethereal high-achievers that you may hear about.

O-1 Visa Petition Approved! What Next?

Well, we hope you first celebrate this incredible accomplishment!

Once you get your approval notice, the next step depends on whether you’re in or out of the country:

  • If you’re in the United States:
    You don’t need to do anything else! Your lawyer must have applied for a change of status while filing, which means your status gets automatically transferred to an O-1 visa.
  • If you’re outside the United States:
    You have one final step, which is to apply for a visa at your country’s U.S. embassy. This involves submitting a Form DS-160 online and booking an interview appointment with the embassy. If all goes well at the interview, you should receive your visa in the mail within a few weeks.

In a way, the O-1 process acts as a catalyst for you to do well in your career, fast. Whether or not you get it, it will still put you in a much better position than someone who is not thinking of applying for it. It’s a framework to help you pursue opportunities without hesitation, opportunities you otherwise would ignore or not know about.


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