Obtaining an O-1 work visa to the US 

An O-1 work visa is granted to “Individuals with Extraordinary Ability or Achievement.” Our Israeli law firm in Tel Aviv specializes in obtaining US immigration and work visas. Senior partner Jamie Cohen shares a case story that illustrates the process of obtaining an O-1 work visa to the United States.

A Popular Israeli TV Show granted O-1 Work Visas to the US

A specific Israeli TV show decided to do part of its filming in the United States. This immediately presents US visa problems. US immigration law is clear: without a work visa, one cannot work in the United States, even if working for a foreign company. In the case of television production, each crew member and actor must obtain a work visa. The US visa system contains a special visa for the arts, including TV productions, i.e., the O visa. For the O-1 visa, the applicant must prove they meet the tests of having an extraordinary ability. This usually proves to be the biggest challenge for O-1 applicants, although, in this case, it was the most straightforward part of the case.

How do you determine "Extraordinary ability" for O-1 Work Visa?

US immigration law is clear: without a work visa, one cannot work in the United States, even if working for a foreign company.

This Israeli show had won Israeli academy awards, known as the Ophir awards in Hebrew. According to US regulations, if a visa applicant has won a recognized national or international award, such as an Academy Award, then the person meets the standards of extraordinary ability. In this case, the producer of the award-winning show qualified for the extraordinary ability visa. Yet, what made this case challenging was seeking similar visas for the multi-person production crew from Israel.

US visa regulations provide a different visa for those accompanying an O-1 extraordinary person, i.e., an O-2 visa. In this case, every crew member must apply for and be approved for the O-2 visa. In addition, multiple tests are applied to O-2 applicants, e.g., they must be critical to the performance of the O-1 applicant; they must have worked previously with the O-1 applicant or be part of a work process that predates entering the US for work. Thus, for each person, proof was provided to show the work of the applicant and their connection to the current production.

Challenges specific to O-1 Work Visa applications

What makes O visa applications particularly challenging is the requirement to first submit the case to US labor organizations that represent American workers, who potentially could be displaced by the foreign workers. Some labor organizations tend to be resistant to approving these types of cases. In the present case, the applications had to be submitted to numerous labor organizations because different groups in the US represent different vocational fields. For example, in this case, there are screenwriters, producers, actors, camera operators, directors, etc. Making things doubly tricky is that the case could not be submitted to US visa authorities until the labor organizations reviewed the materials. In addition, the case was very time sensitive because filming was to begin soon after the case submission.

Expedited process for approval of O-1 Visas

After wrestling with some labor organizations, all the organizations approved granting the visas. Next, the case was submitted to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and was approved quickly, utilizing the expedited processing service by paying additional fees. Finally, a visa application for each individual (separate from the original petition) had to be submitted to the US Embassy in Tel Aviv for interviews and approval. We had notified the US embassy previously about the case because of the large number of workers. The embassy proved very accommodating and gave the crew special days for the interview process. In the end, everyone was approved, and the TV production crew successfully filmed its new TV show in the United States.
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