Myth-busting the O-1
February 22, 2024
You have no idea how much this email motivated me. Prove them wrong 😤
You have no idea how much this email motivated me. Prove them wrong 😤
  • “You have to have a PhD and have written bunch of famous papers to get the O-1.”
  • “It’s known as the Einstein VISA dude. That means you have to be like Einstein to get the VISA”
  • “I heard Melania Trump got the VISA for being a Playboy Bunny. Meanwhile, I’m just a software engineer”
  • “You are smart but you aren’t O-1 smart dude”
  • “O-1 is literally called a VISA for Individuals with Extraordinary Ability or Achievement. Are you that extraordinary?”

I am here to tell you that, according to the eyes of the US government, you are probably more extraordinary than you think.

Above are some quotes and pre-conceptions I collected from my immigrant friends when I asked them about the O-1. Before I got my own O-1, I thought all the above facts were true. When I had to leave the US because I didn’t get picked for the H-1B, I didn’t even think that the O-1 was a valid option for me. The law abiding citizen I am, I moved all my furniture into a storage unit, said goodbye to my friends, and hopped across the pond to started a new life in the UK.

Picture I took when I moved into my new flat in Stoke Newington. In my head, I was thinking 'So, what now?'
Picture I took when I moved into my new flat in Stoke Newington. In my head, I was thinking 'So, what now?'

Before I moved, I wish someone could of told me “Hey Mike, O-1 is not an impossible VISA to get. You should talk to a lawyer about it.” Well… since that didn’t happen, this is me doing the next best thing; writing this post in hopes that it will help at least one immigrant soul out there that is concerned about their future in the US. In this post, I will attempt to bust myths about O-1 in hopes that more people will become aware about it. I will also try to write about things I wish I had known earlier in my immigration journey.

Note: I am not a lawyer. I am a software engineer by profession. Please take all the statements in this essay with a grain of salt and confirm them with an actual lawyer.

My Story

My story as a foreign alien in the US is extremely long - I think it deserves an entirely separate blog post. But for now, I will tell you the story of how I found myself in London in a position where I thought I didn’t have a ticket back to the US, and how I stumbled across the O-1 VISA and eventually made my way back to the US, where I had lived for about 10+ years.

  • I first came to the states with my parents when I was a 3rd grader. We left after one year. (J-1)
  • I came back for middle school and stayed until college (F-1)
  • I got internships and jobs out of college in the tech industry (F-1 STEM OPT)
  • Didn’t get the H-1B after 3 tries and had to leave the US and move to the UK
  • Started a new life in London, UK (Skilled Worker VISA sponsored by Twitter)

To paint the picture, when I came to London, I didn’t have a good plan on how I could come back to the US. The only viable option that I knew of at the time was the L-1 VISA. I also knew that the L-1 is extremely restrictive and is something I didn’t want to apply for unless there was a gun to my head.

The trajectory of my immigration journey changed when I was scrolling on Twitter and saw this tweet. I became curious and decided to talk to Logan. In my mind, the worst thing that could’ve happened is me blowing $200. Thankfully, after talking to Logan, it seemed like I had a good chance for the O-1. The next couple months flew by but at the end of the day…

I applied for the O-1 and came back to the states (took 2 months total) tl;dr I am neither Einstein nor a famous celebrity… yet, I still managed to get the O-1.

Ok, now with that out of the way, let’s get onto the main content. The rest of this post will follow the form of question and answer. These questions have been collected from fellow immigrants friends.

Q. I thought only PhDs qualify for the O-1?

Having a PhD and having written notable papers in your industry definitely helps you get the O-1. However, this is not a strict requirement. I personally only have an undergraduate degree from a public university and have not published any papers.

Q. Do I qualify for the O-1?

There are 8 requirements and according to the US government, you must meet at least 3. I encourage you to read through the requirements and objectively try to see if you qualify. If you meet 2-3 requirements, I would recommend that you talk to a lawyer and ask for their opinion. If you don’t meet 2-3, it’s not the end of the world. You probably know your industry better than I do but if you look hard enough, I would bet there are opportunities out there that will help you check one or two more boxes. Here is a tweet from Logan who does a great job of explaining each qualification and what is expected from each one of them.

If you have any doubts or even slightly curious, I HIGHLY encourage you to consult a lawyer about this. Prep your CV, write down stuff you have done in the past that you think is even remotely impressive and tell a lawyer about it. It will cost about $200 but personally, that $200 changed the trajectory of my life.

Q: How much does it cost?

Depending on the lawyer, $8k ~ $15k. Why is the range so wide? I don’t have a perfect answer for that but I will leave you with this thought. You get what you paid for and is your immigration status something you are trying to cheap out on? I will let you answer that question for yourself.

I personally paid $13k. Rough break down is

  • $3k (premium VISA processing + application fee)
  • $10k (lawyer fees)

Q. How long does it take?

This is completely up to you and the company you are working with. However, if you have all the paperwork and supporting documents that will help the lawyer do their job, it should take 1-2 months to form a case and a story for your application. Once your application is submitted, the timeline after that is completely dependent on the following factors.

  • Country you are in (US embassies of certain countries are busier than others)
  • Time of year (US embassies are busier couple months before school starts)
  • Your previous VISA history (depending on your VISA history & your nationality, you might be able to skip the interview process)

For me, it took about one month until I had the passport in my hand.

Q. What’s the acceptance rate?

According to Google, it’s around 80~95%. I asked some lawyers in the field and they gave me similar numbers. You may ask, “What?! How is it so high?” We will never know but I have some educated guesses.

  1. A lot of people think they aren’t “exceptional” enough for the O-1
  2. Not a lot of people even think the O-1 is an option for them
  3. Hiring and talking to lawyers is a huge barrier
  4. Cost of application + lawyer is high

So… what do you think?

The moment I passed border security with my O-1. The bliss ✨
The moment I passed border security with my O-1. The bliss ✨

If you read this far, I hope you are thinking about talking to a lawyer to see if the O-1 makes sense for you. It’s a tough, anxiety ridden process but if coming to the US is something you want to achieve, I promise you it will be worth it. If you have questions or want to see my successful O-1 application, email me at [email protected].

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