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How to get an O-1 visa extension

Perhaps you're a Nobel Prize-winning scientist visiting the U.S. for a four-year research project. If you want to stay in the U.S., you may need to apply for an O-1 visa extension.

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What is an O-1 visa?

The O-1 visa is an employment-based, nonimmigrant U.S. visa for individuals who have shown extraordinary ability in the following fields:

  • arts

  • athletics

  • business

  • education

  • motion pictures

  • science

  • television

The validity period of the O-1 visa is generally tied to how long the beneficiary needs to stay in the United States for the job.

The maximum period is typically three years, but which can be extended. An O-1 visa holder can enter the U.S. within ten days before their project begins and can stay within ten days after the job ends.

What are the requirements for an O-1 visa?

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) requires aspiring O-1 visa holders to submit the following:

Form I-129 (petition for a nonimmigrant worker)

Evidentiary criteria , which includes:

  • national or internationally recognized awards of excellence

  • a high salary with contracts as proof

  • significant recognition of achievements from recognized institutions in their respective fields

Documentary evidence, which includes:

  • peer group consultations

  • an employment contract

  • itineraries of activities

Extending your O-1 visa

Unexpected changes in your project may compel you to need an extension. To be considered eligible for an O-1 visa extension, you must:

  • have a valid passport

  • have a valid nonimmigrant visa status

  • have been legally admitted into the U.S. with a nonimmigrant visa

  • have not committed any crimes that make you ineligible for a visa

  • have not violated the conditions of your admission

On the other hand, you cannot apply for an extension if you arrived in the U.S. through one of the following:

  • Visa Waiver Program

  • Crew member (D nonimmigrant visa)

  • In transit through the United States (C nonimmigrant visa)

  • In transit through the United States without a visa (TWOV)

  • Fiancé of a U.S. citizen or dependent of a fiancé (K nonimmigrant visa)

  • Informant (and accompanying family) on terrorism or organized crime (S nonimmigrant visa)

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What are the requirements for an O-1 visa extension?

Here are the requirements for an O-1 visa extension:

  • Form I-129 (Petition for Nonimmigrant Worker). U.S. employers use this document to petition for a worker to be allowed into the U.S. for temporary work.

  • A copy of your Form I-94 (Departure Number/Admission Record Number). The U.S. Customers and Border Protection uses this form to keep track of the arrival and departure of non-U.S. citizens to and from the U.S.

  • A statement explaining the reasons for the extension. In this document, it may help if you provide evidence that unexpected circumstances pushed you to extend the duration of your stay in the U.S., such as change in schedule, tasks left to do and other factors that delayed the project.

Note that filling out this paperwork does not automatically guarantee an extension of your O-1 visa as USCIS will still have to decide if your case meets the qualifications.

For applications of both O-1 visas and extensions, your stated reasons should be work-related events or activities, so it's important to know what federal law considers an "event."

"Events" include, but are not limited to:

  • scientific projects

  • conferences

  • conventions

  • lecture series

  • tours

  • exhibits

  • business projects

  • short vacations

  • promotional appearances

  • stopovers which

When to submit an O-1 visa extension

Timing is crucial. The recommended timing for an O-1 visa extension application is at least three months into your allotted time in the U.S.

Individuals typically apply for an O-1 visa extension because of unexpected changes in events, forcing them to spend more time in the country. If you submit your extension application too early, like immediately upon arrival in the U.S., USCIS may reject your application on the suspicion that you may have already planned to stay for more than three years. On the other hand, waiting too long and getting too close to your I-94 date may jeopardize your extension so consider applying for the extension at least 45 days before the expiration date of your O-1 visa.

You may wish to consult an immigration attorney for advice. While their counsel may not guarantee acceptance of your O-1 extension petition, it may still increase your chances of success.

O-1 visa approval, rejection, and overstaying

When your O-1 extension application is approved, expect to receive an approval notice along with a second Form I-94 that shows your visa's extended expiration date.

Be sure, however, to keep your first Form I-94 as you will need to submit the first and second I-94 upon your departure. Copy the two forms in case the original copies get lost or damaged.

If USCIS denies your O-1 extension application, you will receive a rejection notice with the reason for the denial. The agency will also ask you to depart from the country when your original I-94 form expires. Unfortunately, there are no processes for appeals. When this happens, immediately consult your attorney to figure your other options. 

Don’t forget: if you overstay in the U.S. after your visa's validity period, you may get deported.

Changing employers for O-1 visa holders

Changing employers may or may not compel you to extend your stay. In this case, your new employer must file a Form I-129 (Petition for Nonimmigrant Worker) to the USCIS. If an agent filed the petition, they must file an amended petition with evidence relating to the new employer, as well as a request for an extension of stay.

Material changes in employment

Material changes in terms and conditions can happen in the beneficiary's employment or eligibility. In such cases, the petitioner must revise the petition on the original Form I-129 and submit it to the Service Center that received the original petition.

Do note that there are special rules for athletes. There are many cases where professional athletes with O-1 visas have to transfer to another team. In such cases, employment authorization will typically continue with the new team for 30 days. During this duration, the new employer must file a new Form I-129.

Filing a new Form I-129 within the 30-day allowance period technically extends the employment authorization at least until the new petition is approved. If the new employer does not accomplish this petition within 30 days, or if the O-1 status petition is denied, the athlete loses their employment authorization.

Return transportation

There are situations where U.S. employers terminate an O-1 beneficiary's employment for reasons aside from voluntary resignation.

In such cases, the employer must pay for the reasonable cost of return transportation to the visa holder's last place of residence before going to the U.S.

Moreover, if an agent filed the petition for the employer, both the agent and the employer must pay for the return transportation.

Bringing family and support teams

Working on a big project means a high chance of needing to bring family or a support team, such as coaches for athletes, research assistants for scientists and a production crew for filmmakers.

These people will need a separate petition. The O-2 visa is for the team members, while the O-3 visa is for direct family members or your spouse and children. These visas are approved based on the success of your O-1 visa application.

Extending O-2 and O-3 visas

Extending the O-2 and O-3 visa also require separate applications with the following key forms.

  • Form I-539 (application to extend/change nonimmigrant status)

  • Copies of the beneficiaries' I-94 forms (arrival/departure records)

  • A statement from the petitioner (agent or employer) explaining why the extension is necessary

Similarly, the extension of their visas depends on the approved extension of your O-1 visa.

The takeaway

For more resources on how to navigate your new life in the U.S., visit Nova Credit’s resource library where you can learn about everything from renting an apartment to finding the best credit cards for non-citizens.

Moved to the U.S. from Australia, India or the UK?

Put your international credit score to work in the United States

Access your free international credit report to see which U.S. credit cards you could already be eligible for. No SSN is required to start your U.S credit history.

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More from Nova Credit:

The ultimate guide to the O-1 visa

Everything you need to know about the O-2 visa

How much does an O-1 visa application process cost?

All about the requirements for getting an O-1 visa

How to transition from an O-1 visa to an EB-1 green card visa

H-1B vs O-1 visa: Which should I choose?