In today’s interconnected world, businesses no longer thrive in a single location; global expansion has become the key to success. If you’re an entrepreneur with extraordinary abilities, planning to start a business and work in the United States, you might be wondering about the O-1A visa process for new companies. This visa is designed for individuals who have demonstrated exceptional talent and achievements in their field, but navigating the application process can be challenging, especially for startups.

In this comprehensive guide, we will answer your pressing questions about the O-1A visa, outline the necessary evidence you need to gather, and offer practical tips to build a compelling case. Whether you’re concerned about leveraging your company’s website as evidence or understanding the documentation required, we’ve got you covered.

While this article provides valuable insights, remember that it does not constitute legal advice. For personalized assistance with your immigration situation, please consult an immigration attorney. If you would like to speak with our lawyer, our customer care representative will be happy to arrange a call for you.

Understanding the O-1 Visa Requirements 

First of all, it is important to consider that this type of visa is included within the category of temporary workers, meaning it is not an immigrant visa, but a work visa issued for a limited period of time. 

The O-1 visa is intended for individuals with unique, outstanding talents who excel in specific areas such as the sciences, arts, education, business, or athletics. The O-1 visa is divided into two categories: the O-1A and O-1B for individuals in artistic fields. 

In the case of the O-1A visa category, a series of requirements must be met to successfully apply for this visa. 

It is important to highlight that an O-1 visa applicant must be the beneficiary of a petition approved by USCIS before visa issuance at a U.S. Consulate or Embassy. USCIS regulations require the O-1 visa petition to be filed by a petitioner who is a U.S. employer or U.S. agent. While O-1 beneficiaries may not self-petition, a separate legal entity owned by the O-1 beneficiary may be eligible to file a petition on behalf of the O-1 beneficiary. In this scenario, the petitioner would establish a valid employment relationship with the beneficiary to pursue the work visa. 

The O-1A Visa Criteria

To qualify for the O-1A visa, startup founders or entrepreneurs must provide supporting documentation that they have received a major internationally recognized award (such as the Nobel Prize) or if they have not received such an award, they must satisfy at least three of the following forms of evidence:

  1. Evidence of your achievements in the field as an entrepreneur.
  2. Awards or recognitions received by you or your company at a national or international level (investment can also count as recognition)
  3. Membership in associations in your field that require outstanding achievements of their members, judged by recognized national or international experts.
  4. Published material about you in professional or major trade publications, or other major media relating to the beneficiary’s work in the field 
  5. Participation as a judge of the work of others, either individually or on a panel in the same or in an allied field of specialization
  6. Original scientific, scholarly, or business-related contributions of major significance in the field.
  7. Authorship of scholarly articles in professional journals or other major media in the field.
  8. Evidence that you have been employed in a critical or essential capacity for organizations or establishments that have a distinguished reputation.
  9. Evidence of high salary or other significant remuneration for services in your field.

These criteria are designed to demonstrate that the applicant possesses extraordinary abilities and achievements that are widely recognized in their field, whether they are a startup founder or an entrepreneur in a more established company.

The Importance of Strong Evidence for O-1A Visa Applications

Why is it crucial to submit the specific evidence needed for an O-1A visa? 

The success of the O-1A visa petition will depend on the strength of the evidence presented and your ability to satisfy the O-1A criteria. The U.S. government offers many different types of visas, each with its own requirements, benefits and characteristics. In the case of irregularities or doubts about your true intentions in the United States, your visa may be denied.

What Qualifies as Sufficient Evidence for a New Company?

Those who do not possess a major internationally recognized award, must meet at least three of the O-1 criteria previously described to be successful when applying for the O-1A visa. 

As mentioned, it is also necessary for the U.S. company to establish a valid employment relationship with the applicant and file the I-129 Petition for Nonimmigrant Worker on his or her behalf. The applicant must also be prepared to provide letters of recommendation from experts in his or her field who can attest to their achievements and extraordinary ability in the field of interest. 

It is strongly recommended for applicants to work closely with their legal representatives to ensure that their expert letters will satisfy the immigration officer and adequately highlight the applicant’s accomplishments to establish their eligibility. 

Applicants must do more than simply show an interest in seeking to work or launch their businesses once they arrive in the United States. Instead, startup founders or entrepreneurs must show proof of their employment with the U.S. company (their legal contract, for example). Furthermore, you must demonstrate that your business presents legitimate, non-speculative opportunities. This could consist of, for example, client contracts or an elaborate project your company will undertake.

Leveraging Your Website as Evidence

One major factor you should consider is whether your business has its own website, reflecting its activities, history, current and future projects, and maintains open lines of communication with its stakeholders. 

Having a polished company website can make a difference in the O-1A visa application process, even if it is not explicitly listed as a requirement of USCIS. That is because a website conveys professionalism and is a credible way to complement the information submitted in your application. It is also a source of data that can be easily reviewed while making a positive impact on your case. 

Additional Documentation to Strengthen Your Application

In the event that your profile does not meet at least three of the aforementioned criteria, you must speak with your legal representative to discuss the possibility of submitting “comparable evidence,” in support of your application; in other words, additional documents that serve as proof of your eligibility for the O-1A visa.  For example, it may be beneficial to your case to provide documentation showing a projection of your company’s benefits to the local economy, outlining the positive impact that your project would have on the country. To learn more about comparable evidence, please visit the USCIS website here

Common Challenges for New Companies Applying for an O-1 Visa

It is expected that start-up companies will have to work harder to provide the necessary documentation sought by USCIS, however, while the process may seem daunting, it does not mean that it is impossible. The most common challenges of the O-1 visa are usually related to providing adequate documentation in support of your career trajectory, achievements, and success, especially if you have not received major internationally recognized awards. To ensure a successful outcome, we work closely with applicants to overcome potential challenges, providing our support every step of the way. 

Tips for Building a Compelling Petition Demonstrating Your Track Record of Extraordinary Achievement 

Tips for Building a Compelling Petition Demonstrating Your Track Record of Extraordinary Achievement 

Before starting the application process, you must ensure that you meet at least three of the O-1 visa evidentiary criteria and gather the supporting documentation to establish your eligibility. The more criteria that you can meet, the stronger your application will be and the greater the likelihood of your success. Your company’s application along with the petitioner letter will serve as the foundation of your application, explaining which criteria you meet and how you qualify for the visa based on the supporting evidence included in your application. 

Startup founders and entrepreneurs may provide additional documentation demonstrating the positive impact of their company in the United States. For example by providing evidence of interest from external investors, investments from venture capitalists to show the company’s viability, and any other relevant evidence supporting the company’s merit. 

Once the O-1A petition has been approved by USCIS, the final step in the process is to schedule and attend an in-person interview at a U.S. Consulate or Embassy near you. This is an important stage in the process where applicants must carefully prepare for their interview, and explain the reasons they are seeking the work visa. This is a decisive stage and is among the last steps before final visa issuance. 

Highlighting High Level of Personal Achievements 

What professional achievements are you most proud of, during your entire career? Do you own any patents? Are you part of an organization in the field that carefully selects its members? Documentation that answers these questions about your profession are excellent ways to prove your capabilities as an expert in your field, and will help you satisfy at least three or more of the O-1A visa criteria. 

An example of personal achievements that can satisfy one of the O-1A visa criteria, is providing evidence of your participation as part of an expert jury at an event in your field of study, evaluating your peers on the basis of your own knowledge. 

Additionally, three of the most commonly met criteria are: 

  • demonstrating a high salary for services in your field (such as a pay stub or official income statement), 
  • memberships in professional associations that require outstanding achievement in your field (such as “invitation-only” associations or those that are selective in accepting members), 
  • and evidence of your original scholarly, or business-related contributions of major significance in your field (such as patents, inventions, intellectual property rights, and other novel or emerging contributions you have made in your field). 

Utilizing Industry Recognitions and Awards

Your company’s recognitions and awards can strengthen the O-1A visa application. 

Why is your company different from others, how has it been recognized? What goals has it accomplished? What is innovative about it? What relevant awards or honors, internationally or nationally, has it won since it has been in operation? 

Providing documentary evidence that answers these questions can further persuade an immigration officer to approve your application. 

If your company has not yet won awards, you do not need to worry. Other achievements are also important. Remember that the objective is to demonstrate that you have a great track record in your professional field, and that you possess expertise that sets you apart from others in your field. This information will establish your credibility and persuade the officer of your intentions to start a solid business in the United States.

Expert Advice on O-1A Visa Applications for Startups

To set you on a path toward success, here are some of our top tips to help you prepare for the O-1 visa application: 

  1. Improve your resume as much as possible before applying. Remember you must prove how your experience and accomplishments set you apart from others in your field. 
  2. Tap into your professional network to strengthen your profile. For example, if you are not a member of any invitation-only professional associations, consider who you know that is part of such associations and how they may help you join them. 

Furthermore, if you know a colleague or other professional that has judged competitions in your field, either individually or as part of a panel, consider asking them how you can be selected as a judge. This may lead you to do further research and understand how you can be selected as a judge for a particular event or competition that is considered distinguished or prestigious in your area of expertise. 

  1. Carefully prepare for your in-person visa interview. Be ready to explain how you qualify for the visa and anticipate questions relating to your work.  It is important to communicate your credibility and trustworthiness. Failure to adequately prepare for your interview could be a cause for denial. To learn more about the types of questions you may be asked during your interview, please click here.
  2. There is no such thing as too much evidence. Provide as much documentary evidence as possible to prove at least three of the O-1A criteria. Your ultimate goal should be to meet as many of the criteria as possible to increase your chances of success. All documentation provided must be submitted in paper form by mail. 


Navigating the O-1A visa application process as a startup founder or entrepreneur requires thorough preparation and a clear understanding of the requirements. By gathering compelling evidence of your extraordinary abilities and significant achievements, you can build a strong case for your visa application. 

Ensure that you meet at least three of the O-1A criteria by providing documentary evidence supporting your eligibility, and consider utilizing your business website to further establish your credibility. Consulting with an immigration attorney for personalized guidance can further enhance your chances of success. With diligent effort and expert advice, you can achieve your goal of expanding your business to the United States.

If you are interested in determining your eligibility for the O-1A kindly complete this free brief screening, and our team of attorneys will carefully review your accomplishments.


  • Can an O-1A visa result in obtaining permanent residency in the United States?

    No, the O-1A visa is a non-immigrant visa that allows the individual to temporarily work in the U.S. Those who wish to apply for permanent residence, must apply for an employment-based immigrant visa type, like EB-1A or EB-2 NIW.
  • Can my family accompany me to the US on an O-1 visa? Will it grant a work permit for them?

    Spouses and unmarried children under the age of 21 may be eligible to apply for an O-3 nonimmigrant visa that will be subject to the same period of admission and limitations as the O-1 beneficiary. Unfortunately, O-3 dependents are not eligible for work authorization and employment in the U.S.
  • How long is an O-1 visa valid?

    The O-1 visa can be issued for up to 3 years and is extendable.