How I got the O-1
DATE
February 11, 2024

I arrived in the states with my O-1 in hand on August 2023. Since then, every time I meet a new person and they find out that I am in the states with the O-1 VISA, they usually end up looking surprised; this reaction is even more amplified when that person is a fellow immigrant. The usual question that I get after this reaction is “how did you get the O-1?”

Over the last few months, I have had to tell the same story in some shape or form numerous times. Couple days ago, I realized that if I write a blog post about how I got the O-1, it could be helpful to at least one immigrant out there in similar shoes as mine. So with that being said, here is a story of how I got the O-1.

The background

When I graduated from university, I became a software engineer at a big tech company. I was working with the F-1 (STEM OPT) VISA and was bound for the H-1B lottery. 3 years and 6 tries later - unlike some of my lucky friends - I did not get chosen and was left with a decision; go back to Korea or move to an English speaking country and continue working for my employer. At the time, I was employed under Twitter; this was 2021 so a bit before Elon. It turned out that Twitter had an office in London and I thought to myself, “London isn’t such a bad place to get kicked out to. Besides, when would I ever get to live in London?”

Picture of me in front my Airbnb right after I landed in London. My entire life was condensed down to 5 bags.
Picture of me in front my Airbnb right after I landed in London. My entire life was condensed down to 5 bags.

In reality, moving countries wasn’t all roses and sunshine. The ups were high but the downs were also very low. Personal struggles aside, I started working in the UK with the Skilled Worker Visa, and obtaining this VISA was quite straightforward and quick. I have a lot of opinions about the UK but the US should definitely take a page out of the UK’s book when it comes to immigration.

So what now?

Couple days before moving to London, I rented a storage unit and put most of my belongings there. Sofa, mattress, cookware, clothes that I didn’t particularly mind, etc. I didn’t know how long it would take me but the plan was to come back to the states.

When I got settled in to my new flat in North London, I immediately started scheming my grand plan of re-entering the US. After browsing the web, I could only find 4 realistic solutions that could work for me; an average software engineer with an undergraduate degree.

  1. Apply for a school in the states and go through the F-1 OPT dance again
  2. Propose and marry my ex-girlfriend at the time
  3. Apply for the L-1 VISA with Twitter after being in London for a year

I wrote down #1 and #2 because they were technically options but I had no intention of following through with them whatsoever. The L-1 was the most realistic choice but I did not want my immigration status to be tied to Twitter.

💡 With the L-1, you can not switch or leave the company that is sponsoring your VISA. If you leave the company that is sponsoring your L-1, you must leave the states and forgo your L-1. The only path forward with the L-1 is obtaining Permanent Residency.

At this point, I felt like I had done all the research I could do. So, my next step was to consult a professional. After $200 and an hour-long phone call, my hopes were shot down yet again. The lawyer essentially told me “hey Mike, you’re an impressive guy but not that impressive. Come back when you raise a couple million dollars for your hypothetical startup. For now, I would suggest that you marry your girlfriend.” At the time, I was dumb enough to consult only one lawyer because I thought that lawyers' words had to be objectively true. Looking back, an advice I'd give my past-self is… “Talk to multiple lawyers. Take their words with a grain of salt. Do your own research so you can speak their language.”

What now?

7 months into living in London, I was out of options. It seemed like I either had to get the L-1 or give up going back to the states for a while. The thought of “should I stay in the UK for 6 more years and just get a UK citizenship?” did cross my mind for a split second… until I saw this tweet.

Thanks Logan for randomly appearing on my timeline.
Thanks Logan for randomly appearing on my timeline.

I was intrigued. I knew that the next thing I wanted to do in my career is my own startup and thought that this O-1 thing had some potential. I booked a meeting with Logan immediately. After another $200, the response I got from him was “hell yeah, you should apply. I think you’ll get it.” Quick plug... you should checkout his tool if you want a quick way to check your eligibility.

So which requirements did I satisfy?

If this is the first time you are hearing about the O-1 VISA, welcome. The tldr is that you need to meet a certain number of requirements set by the US government to get for the VISA; the US government talks about it here. If you have heard rumors about the O-1 VISA and have questions, I wrote a post that tries to bust some myths about the O-1. Ultimately, you’ll likely find that you’re more eligible than you think

I was so unsure if any of these made sense
I was so unsure if any of these made sense

Back to the story... After couple hours of researching, I decided to give this O-1 thing a shot. Here is a screenshot of a Notion page I started right after talking to Logan. The requirements and if I satisfied them were completely my opinions but looking back at it, it definitely helped speed up the process; lawyers, in my opinion, like opinionated clients. After drafting up this page, I started shopping around for lawyers. In the end, I chose a company run by Minn. And if you are curious, here is a list of requirements & arguments Minn and I were able to come up with for my application.

  1. High Renumeration
    • Turns out, despite the 50% decrease in salary after moving to the UK, I was still in the upper 90th percentile of tech workers in terms of pay. Hats off to the UK government for the slow-growing economy?
  2. Critical role
    • Having worked at Apple and Twitter, this requirement was filled quite easily for me. However, at the time of my O-1 application, Twitter had been bought by Elon and went through massive layoffs. At the end of it all, I was one of 6 iOS engineers left at the company from hundreds before. Turns out, this increased my importance at the company and could be used to strengthen my argument for this requirement.
  3. Original contribution & press
    • Since college, I have always been making apps on the side. Some were small but a few reached 5 digits in sales. The apps never got huge but they were large enough that I had some new articles and blog posts written about them.
  4. Membership
    • Like I said before, I knew that my next ideal career move was to start a company. One day, I randomly started talking to an old friend of mine from San Francisco. He also had similar ambitions as me - but he was a US citizen. Turns out, he was a member of an incubator named South Park Commons. Their mission statement aligned with mine and it seemed like it would be the perfect place to be when starting out my journey. I applied and thankfully, was admitted.
  5. Judging
    • Before I decided to apply for the O-1, this is a requirement that I didn’t initially meet. However, it turns out, MLH is always looking for judges for their hackathon. I applied, judged a couple hackathons, and was able to meet this requirement.

With the above 5 categories, it took about 1.5 months for the lawyers to put together an application. After submitting the application to the US embassy, it was time for the worst part of the process… waiting.

The waiting

I will tell it to you straight, I did not enjoy this part of the process. Once you hand in the application to the embassy, the only thing you can do is wait. The government website to check the status of the application is also useless. Don’t expect push notifications or even an email when the application status changes. But keep in mind that I got so anxious before my first job interview that my Apple Watch thought I was having a heart attack.

The number of times I refreshed this page is criminal. Hey US gov, please implement notifications for this page for future O-1 applicants
The number of times I refreshed this page is criminal. Hey US gov, please implement notifications for this page for future O-1 applicants

It all worked out

FaceTiming my parents right after I received my passport
FaceTiming my parents right after I received my passport

Anyways, I hope this story taught you something and or gave you hope. If you read this post and thought “Hey, this guy isn’t even that impressive. I have more stuff on my CV!”, you should definitely talk to a lawyer about if the O-1 makes sense for you. If you are curious about the details of my O-1 application and want to see it yourself, email me at [email protected]. I would be more than happy to share it with you.

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