The Difference Between the H-1B and the O-1 Visas

While most workers are set on obtaining their H-1B visas before numbers run out, the O-1 visa is often overlooked and misunderstood. O-1 visas are awarded to immigrants with extraordinary abilities in the arts, sciences, education, business or athletic fields. The program for what are officially called O-1 visas, began in 1990 as lawmakers sought to separate these applicants from the pool of those seeking H1-B visas, the visa program for skilled immigrants used by many technology companies. While H1-B applicants must hold at least a bachelor’s degree and possess some specialized skill, O-1 visas are allotted to a more elite crowd: those who can prove to U.S. immigration officials that they are the very top in their fields.

Misunderstanding can often occur when you read the immigration laws that apply. The codes make reference to a “Nobel prize” equivalent. This is enough to scare off even the most qualified individuals. However, in practice USCIS takes careful note of the supporting evidence, recommendation letter and overall look of the application. This is often why artists are often successful in the O-1 visa application when linked up with a good immigration lawyer or attorney.

To give you some recent numbers, according to the U.S. State Department – which makes the grants to successful applicants – 9,014 O-1s were awarded in 2008, up to 40% from 2004. Among current O-1 visa holders and Dallas Mavericks forward Dirk Nowitzki, Canadian author Jennifer Gould Keil, Israeli concert pianist Inon Barnatan, and members of the New York dance companies Merce Cunninham and Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane. This should give you an idea as to the diverse specialties of the arts that encapsulate this “artist visa”.

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