The O-1 extraordinary ability visa is one of the most important temporary ("nonimmigrant") work visa categories. This is because it is free from many of the restrictions that make some other popular employment-based categories seem like an obstacle course, if not a minefield, for skilled, educated immigrants who are looking for work authorization.

For example, unlike the H-1B visa, O-1 doesn't have inflated "prevailing wage" requirements whose main purpose is to discourage US employers, especially smaller companies, from offering a position to a non-US citizen in the first place. There is no "Labor Condition" requirement for approval from the US Department of Labor before applying to USCIS.

Most important of all, O-1 visas are not subject to annual quota limitations. There are no complicated and restrictive O-1 "Caps" or "lotteries" similar to those for H-1B.

Given the increasing importance and growing popularity of O-1, it is important to focus on how to meet the requirements for this category and try to avoid the blizzard of RFE's which are now affecting so many H-1B, L-1, E-2 and other "nonimmigrant" work visa petitions. I will begin with one of the key elements of any O-1 application, namely the recommendation letters.

Recommendation letters are a key part of petitions for both types of O-1 categories: O-1A - extraordinary ability in business, science, education or athletics - and O-1B, extraordinary ability in the arts. But all too frequently, recommendation letters, while often making very positive statements about an O-1 beneficiary's character, personality or work attitude, leave out or overlook the real purpose of the O-1 letter. This makes the recommendation letter less effective than it should be.

For example, many O-1 letters take up a lot of space praising the O-1 beneficiary's work attitude. For example, a letter may state that the individual is "passionate"about his or her work, is a great "team player" and "gets along well" with his or er co-workers. While these are all desirable qualities for any worker to have, they say nothing about what make the O-1 candidate "distinguished","outstanding" (O-1B) or at the top of his or field of endeavor (O-1A).

To the contrary, most USCIS examiners assume that everyone who his being sponsored for a work visa of any kind enjoys his or her work, gets along well with co-workers and is a good team player anyway..

What, therefore, should be included in an effective O-1 supporting letter? To answer this, we need to look at the O-1 regulations, which I will do in Part 2 of this series.

Roger Algase, Attorney at Law
Harvard Law School LL.B.
Harvard College A.B.

Roger Algase is a New York-based immigration lawyer with a nationwide practice who has been representing O-1 extraordinary ability clients for more than 20 years.