What is O-1

O-1 is a temporary visa status that authorizes temporary activities in the USA. Unlike other work visas, which focus on the worker's education (H-1B and E-3 visa status classifications) or the worker's profession (TN visa status classification), the O-1 classification focuses on the individuals's accomplishment and impact within their field.

The requirements for the O-1 visa status therefore are explained below. 

The Field

O-1 visa status is limited to the sciences, arts, education, business, or athletics. The indiviudal's discipline or focus must fit within one of these four general areas.

Accomplishments and Impact 

The individual must generally show that they have accomplishment and impact in their field. This is because the law states that the O-1 visa holder must hold "extraordinary" ability.

The word "extraordinary" here does not mean the same as it does in the dictionary. In the law, the word is a defined legal term. If an academic unit head, or a researcher, or Principal Investigator, were asked what "extrarodinary"  means, the answers all would probably be very different based on when they were asked the question and the context behind the question. Similarly, the law looks at "extraordinary" ability from its own highly specialized and narrow focus. 

The law defines how specifically the individual will show this. 


Generally speaking, immigration law does not evaluate 'truth'.  There is no way to do that. Instead, the law evaluates documentation. The law assumes that if something can be documented, the it is generally likely to be true, and that if something cannot be documented, then something is unlikely to be true. The result is that the ability to qualify for O-1 visa status depends in part on how much documentation can be produced. 

The law requires the individual to demonstrate (through documentation) at least three of the elements listed below. In reality, best practice dictates that a request for O-1 status never include only the minimum number of elements, because of the USCIS disagrees on any of the elements, then the entire request is doomed. Best practice recommends including documentation for at least four elements, if not more.

  • Nationally or internationally recognized prizes or awards for excellence in the field
  • Membership in associations in the field.
    • This is not, though, general membership, which presumably anyone can obtain. The law refers here ONLY to memberships where eligibility is based on outstanding achievements, and where the membership is evaluated or judged by distinguished members
  • Published material about the individual or their work
    • This element is not intended to include articles or discussions about an entire collaboration or laboratory. The articles should refer (at some point) to the individual specifically.
    • The published material should be in professional or major trade publications or major media
  • Participation on a panel, or individually, as a judge of the work of others in the same or in an allied field
    • This might include peer review of articles, session organization or chairing for a conference, or even leadership of a sub-group within a larger collaboration
  • Original scientific, scholarly, or business-related contributions of major significance in the field
    • This element is largely essential to the success of an O-1 request. If the paperwork cannot point to something original and innovative, then there is little real change of characterising an individual as extraordinary in their field
  • The individual's authorship of scholarly articles in the field, in professional journals, or other major media
    • The USCIS looks at whether the articles are in high impact or prominent journals. If the individual's field is smaller or more cutting-edge, then the absence of 'high impact' journals can sometimes be accomodated
    • The USCIS also looks at the citations for published materials. They generally expect that 'extraordinary' individuals have higher citation rates.
  • The individual's participation in a critical or essential capacity for distinguished organizations and establishments
  • The individual's receipt of a high salary

Sustained Acclaim

The law also states that the documentation support a conclusion that the individual has "sustained" acclaim. This means that the individual's accomplishments and impacts need to have begun in the past at some point and be continuing to the present, to the time when the request is submitted to the US government. If the individual's citations or publications peaked in the past, then there likely will be a question as to whether the individual's impact to the field is "sustained".

National or International

The law also requires that the individual and their documentation demonstrate that the acclaim is national or international. In the years since the passage of the laws, the world has grown smaller. Modern transportation, telecommunication and other advances mean that professionals in any given country can participate in a global professional community with little difficulty. As a result, if an individual only can show national acclaim, the US government is unlikely to agree that the individual has risen to the level of 'extraordinary'. 

Listed Elements versus Big Picture

The law intends the O-1 visa status for individuals who have "extraordinary ability' in their field. The law defines 'extraordinary' to mean "distinction" in the field, but what that means depends on the area in which the individual works-

  • In the field of arts
    • Distinction means a high level of achievement in the field of arts evidenced by a degree of skill and recognition substantially above that ordinarily encountered to the extent that a person described as prominent is renowned, leading, or well-known in the field of arts.
  • In the field of science, education, business, or athletics 
    • Dinstinction means a level of expertise indicating that the person is one of the small percentage who have arisen to the very top of the field of endeavor.

What this means is that a request that ONLY checks off three or four of the elements listed above will not succeed, because the request does not also demonstrate-

  • Sustained Acclaim
  • International Acclaim
  • Distinction

The government will not look itself for these elements - the request needs to persuade the government that the documentation attached that satisfy the listed elements also responds to each of these additional concerns. 

How Temporary is O-1

O-1 visa status is a temporary visa status, which means it has an end date associated with each approval or grant of O-1 status. 

O-1 status is not "strictly nonimmigrant". An O-1 visa holder is not required to maintain a residence abroad to which they will return. If the O-1 individual pursues permanent residence, there is no penalty or consequence in the law for doing so. This means the O-1 individual can be "temporary for now" even while they are planning to be "permanent in the future".

In other words, the law assumes that the O-1 individual will comply with the law and obey the terms of their current O-1 status, even if the worker is at the same time actively pursuing permission to reside in the USA permanently. 

How Long does O-1 Last

The law limits an O-1 individual to an "Event". An event can be any activity that has an inherent end date. Examples of events include an appointment, a visiting scholar invitation, a phase of a research endeavor, or other activities. Regardless of how long the event is, the government approves O-1 status in increments of not more than 3 years.

When an individual first obtains O-1 status, this is called a "new" grant of O-1. If the grant of O-1 status was for less than 3 years and the O-1 individual wants to continue, then this is called "extending" O-1 status. 

If the O-1 individual completes a 3-year event but still wants to continue in the US in O-1 status, then they may request a renewal of O-1 status for a new event. The event must be "new" - it cannot be the same event that is just lingering for more than 3 years. As a result, the more carefully the original event is defined determines how easily a new event can be identified. Each O-1 renewal is again capped at a maximum of 3 years.

The law does not have any limit on how many times an individual may renew O-1 visa status.

Which Purdue Opportunities are Appropriate for O-1 Status


O-1 visa status classification is unique, in that it is not limited solely to situations involving employment. The O-1 classification may be used to support visiting scholar appointments where no Purdue funding is provided. Purdue policy limits O-1 sponsorship to situations where the individual's home institution or government, or where the individual has other external funding, that supports the visit. 


O-1 visa status may be used to sponsor workers in the following categories of employment at Purdue-

  • Tenured faculty
  • Tenure-track faculty
  • Clinical faculty
  • Professors of Practice
  • Research Faculty
  • Visiting Faculty
  • Lecturers
  • Postdoctoral researchers
  • Teaching staff
  • Research staff
  • other staff positions where the Career Stream is professional ("P"), managerial ("M"), or executive ("E")

Administrative and operational support positions, trades, and laboratory technical posisions are not  eligible for O-1 sponsorship. 

Fulltime versus Part-Time
O-1 visa status is available to support part-time positions of not less than .5 FTE.
O-1 Process

Units seeking O-1 visa status for an individual must make this request to the International Scholar Services team, following current procedures. Individuals may not seek O-1 sponsorship by Purdue on their own, without unit support. 

Upon receipt of a request, International Scholar Services sends to the individual an electronic questionnaire relating to the individual's documentation of accomplishments and impact. This information is then transmitted to our outside immigration law firm for evaluation. Purdue policy permits the submission of an O-1 petition to USCIS only if the evaluation indicates a chance of success that is not less than 80%. This is not a determination about the individual - it is solely an evaluation of what current adjudicatory trends suggest the government might think of the documents available. In short, the evaluation is of paperwork and not personal value.

If approved, the outside immigration law firm prepares a Form I-129 petition and supporting documentatino for submission to the US Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS). Purdue assigns the preparation and processing of O-1 petitions to our outside immigration counsel, under the oversight of International Scholar Services.

If there are questions about the O-1 process, please contact your unit's ISS Liaison.