As with all visas, documentation is key. As I said, it is not enough to have extraordinary ability—you must be able to prove your ability. For this reason, a successful O visa application is all about evidence and documentation. In fact, learning more about the kinds of documentation that are required will also give you a clearer idea of what “extraordinary ability” means in practice. Pseudo-definitions like having achieved “distinction” are virtually as vague as “extraordinary ability” and fall far short of allowing one to confidently determine whether one qualifies.
For the O-1B (the subtype for those in the arts) the most effective type of evidence of extraordinary ability is having received or been nominated for a major, internationally-recognized award, such as a Nobel Prize, Academy Award, Emmy, Grammy, or Director's Guild Award. Providing documentation of such an internationally recognized award goes a long way towards a successful application. In fact, not much more is needed in many cases. This, however, is an ideal scenario that does not apply to most O-1 visa applicants, so you should not conclude that such a prestigious and rare award is essential. To the contrary, many O-1 applicants are successful without a major award of this kind. As an alternative, USCIS requires evidence of at least (3) three of the types of evidence listed below (although a well prepared application will usually touch upon more than three). These types of evidence demonstrate that the applicant has:
- Performed and will perform services as a lead or starring participant in productions or events which have a distinguished reputation (as shown by critical reviews, advertisements, publicity releases, publications, contracts or endorsements).
- Achieved national or international recognition for achievements (as shown by critical reviews or other published materials by or about the beneficiary in major newspapers, trade journals, magazines, or other publications).
- Performed and will perform in a lead, starring, or critical role for organizations and establishments that have a distinguished reputation (as shown by articles in newspapers, trade journals, publications, or testimonials).
- A record of major commercial or critically acclaimed successes (as shown by such indicators as title, rating, or standing in the field, box office receipts, motion picture or television ratings and other occupational achievements reported in trade journals, major newspapers or other publications).
- Received significant recognition for achievements from organizations, critics, government agencies or other recognized experts in the field in which the beneficiary is engaged (along with the testimonials clearly indicating the author's authority, expertise, and knowledge of the beneficiary's achievements).
- Received a high salary or other substantial remuneration for services in relation to others in the field (as shown by contracts or other reliable evidence).
If these specific kinds of documentation don’t apply to your artistic profession, don’t be concerned. USCIS notes that if the standards listed above do not readily apply to the occupation of the beneficiary, the petitioner may submit “comparable evidence” to demonstrate eligibility. A qualified immigration attorney can help determine what would be satisfactory comparable evidence given your area of expertise. Details aside, the underlying idea is that you must submit at least three different types of evidence of extraordinary ability.