The O-2 visa is intended for individuals who will accompany an O-1, artist or athlete, to assist in a specific event or performance in the United States.This particular visa does not apply to individuals accompanying O-1 visa holders working in education, business or science; in this instances, the aspiring O-2 visa holder should investigate other visa categories. 

In this article, we explain key advantages and disadvantages of the O-2 visa and the critical skills and experience you will need to demonstrate to accompany an O-1 visa holder working in the arts or athletics. 

Advantages and limitations of the O-2 visa

Applying for an O-2 visa has certain benefits:

  • The O-2 visa allows its holders to travel in and out of the U.S.
  • O-2 visa holders can bring their spouse or children under the O-3 visa 
  • The O-2 visa process is typically processed faster than other visas 

However, the O-2 visa also has limitations for foreign nationals:

  • Since this visa is primarily linked with the O-1 visa, the applicant's employment activities must only be temporary and solely in support of the O-1 visa holder whom he or she is dependent on.
  • The O-2 visa holder must demonstrate that he or she has a stable, permanent foreign residence that he or she does not plan to abandon and live in the U.S. 

O-2 visa application process

Step one: Filing Form I-129

The O-2 visa process is similar to the O-1 process. It starts with the filing of the Form I-129 (Petition for Nonimmigrant Worker), which lists the reasons the worker is essential to the activities of the O-1 visa holder in the U.S.

The petition must not be filed more than one year before the O-1 visa holder  will begin employment. To avoid delays, Form I-129 should be filed at least 45 days before the date of employment.

Although the O-2 and O-1 visas are linked, the petitioner cannot use the same Form I-129 for both petitions. However, the petitioner can use the same Form I-129 for more than one O-2 petition, provided that the beneficiaries will assist the same O-1 beneficiary during the same events and at the same time and locations.

O-2 visa requirements for artists’ and athletes’ support teams

Different information is required between (1) supporting individuals of artists and athletes and (2) supporting individuals of motion picture and television production professionals.

For those supporting an artist or an athlete, you must be able to establish the following facts in your petition: 

  • that you will go to the U.S. to provide essential support to the performance of the O-1 beneficiary
  • that you will be an integral part of the actual performance
  • that you have critical skills and experience with the O-1 beneficiary that are not possessed by any U.S. worker and are not of "general nature." You can do this by proving your track record of performing specific skills that prove your necessity to the O-1 visa holder.

O-2 visa requirements for film and TV workers

Similar to individuals who support artists and athletes, those who will support petitions with extraordinary experience in film and television must possess skills and experience not possessed by any U.S. worker. There are two ways to establish that your skills satisfy the requirements:

  1. Confirming that your skills and experience are based on a pre-existing and long-established working relationship with the O-1 beneficiary
  2. Confirming that the entire production (including pre- and post-production) will take place both inside and outside the U.S., and the continuing participation of the O-2 petition beneficiary is essential to the completion of the production

The key here is to show your working relationship with the O-1 beneficiary or your crucial role in the portion of the production that will take place in the U.S.

At this stage, you may wish to consider consulting an experienced immigration attorney for the petitions. An attorney can readily evaluate a petition beneficiary’s credentials and suggest the best path forward. 

Step two: Peer consultation

The U.S. employer must submit a consultation letter written by a distinguished peer group from your respective field, whether that may be from the arts, athletics, motion picture or television.

This letter must be accompanied by a written statement specifying when the events will take place in the U.S. and your role in those events.

If the O-2 petition beneficiary is a support crew of an extraordinary artist or athlete, the consultation must come from an appropriate labor organization. If the O-2 petition beneficiary is a support crew of the motion picture and television industry, the consultation must be provided by an appropriate labor organization and a management organization with expertise in the field.

If the petitioner proves that an appropriate peer group (labor or a management organization) does not exist, the decision will depend on the evidence of record.

Step three: Consular interview

Once USCIS approves your petition, you will need to go through consular processing. You need to make an appointment with the U.S. consulate or embassy in your home country and undergo a one-on-one personal interview with the respective consular officer.

In your interview, you will need to bring a few documents:

  • a completed DS-160 online nonimmigrant visa application
  • printout of the confirmation page of the DS-160 form
  • a valid passport
  • supporting documents for your case

The consular officer will most likely ask questions regarding your work history. They will also inquire about your personal life, your U.S. employer and your plans once you arrive in the U.S. 

Length of validity of an O-2 visa and how to extend it

The validity of an O-2 visa is dependent on the O-1, which, in turn, depends on the length of the project or event in question. That being said, the initial maximum validity period of an O-2 visa is three years, similar to the O-1.

No matter how long the approved duration, the O-2 beneficiary will have ten days before the starting date to enter the U.S. and ten days after the end date to travel home.

If an extension of stay is necessary, the O-2 visa holder can petition for an extension with the O-1 holder with the following documents:

  • A new Form I-129 (Petition for Nonimmigrant Worker)
  • A copy of the beneficiary's Form I-94 (Arrival and Departure Record)
  • A statement from the petitioner explaining the reasons for the extension. This statement should contain a description of the original event or activity and a reasonable argument about why you need the extension to complete or continue the said event.

The USCIS can approve the extension of your O-2 visa extension in one-year increments.If you brought a spouse and children as O3 visa category holders, they must file to the USCIS Form I-539, Application to Extend or Change Nonimmigrant Status as well as any supporting documents to extend their stay.

Processing time of an O-2 visa application and how to speed it up

As mentioned, filing for an O-2 visa is relatively faster than other visas, but all cases vary. Generally, the O-2 visa processing period can last a few months to a whole year, depending on which institutional branches handle your petition.  

The processing of Form I-129, in particular, typically takes an average of six months, depending on the service center in charge of your petition. You can check the USCIS website to see which centers process the highest and lowest number of petitions in 180 days or six months.

Fortunately, the USCIS offers premium processing for visa applications that use Form I-129. By paying an additional fee, the total processing time of your petition can be shortened by up to 15 calendar days.

However, there is no guarantee that premium processing will speed up your case. Busy service centers will refund your premium fee if they fail to finish processing your case within the allotted time.

Note that the premium processing option only speeds up the I-129 petition, not the rest of the process. It also does not guarantee that your petition will be approved. Again, it's advised to consult your immigration lawyer about availing premium processing to know whether it's appropriate for your case or not.

O-2 visa application fees

Like the O-1 visa, the processing of the O-2 visa category is relatively inexpensive.

Change of status

  • Basic I-129 filing fee = $460

Consular processing

  • Biometrics fee (if applicable) = $85

The Form I-129 fee must be paid for by the U.S. employer not the visa beneficiary while the beneficiary is responsible for paying the DS-160 and biometrics fees.Meanwhile, either the beneficiary or the employer can pay for the optional premium processing free.

The takeaway

The O-2 visa category is heavily dependent on the O-1 visa. It has several advantages over other visa categories, but make sure to consult an experienced immigration lawyer to guide you in your application process.

Should the USCIS reject your petition, your legal aid can help you explore other options in entering the U.S. for your employment. For more information regarding the O visa categories, visit the USCIS website.

For navigating life in the U.S., visit Nova Credit's resource library to help you with tasks such as getting a credit card or applying for a job as an immigrant.

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 noncitizens.