IT Reshoring News

February 23, 2016

The O-1 Visa – What Businesses Should Use to Bring In Top Foreign Talent (But Don't)

The U.S. has a visa, intended to attract the best & brightest workers from overseas, with no limit on number of applicants. But it's not the H-1B Visa. And there's a reason you've never heard of it.

The U.S. does have a visa to allow the “best and brightest” workers to work in America. But it’s not the H-1B.

No, this is another visa program, available to highly-skilled, temporary foreign workers. It has no cap on the total number of workers who can come here, either. It's called the O-1 Visa.

From the O-1 Visa page on USCIS.gov:

“The O-1 nonimmigrant Visa is for the individual who possesses extraordinary ability in the sciences, arts, education, business, or athletics, or who has a demonstrated record of extraordinary achievement in the motion picture or television industry and has been recognized nationally or internationally for those achievements.”

Targeted squarely at highly-skilled individuals, the O-1 Visa is perfect for IT experts and the number is uncapped. So why don’t businesses use these?

Well, the O-1 Visa has some requirements.

  • Visa applicants must demonstrate exceptional ability. (With evidence.)
  • Consultation is required from relevant "Peer Group" (e.g., a labor union).
  • The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Department must receive documentation of the worker’s contract and itineraries.

In other words, an O-1 Visa applicant is an independent, highly-paid expert. That’s not what most businesses hiring foreign workers want. They won’t save money, they don't have as much control of the employee, and they’re subject to operational guidelines.

Unlike the H-1B Visa, which we’ve been told is aimed (but isn’t) at highly-skilled employees that are not available in the U.S., the O-1 Visa actually IS for highly-skilled employees that you can't find in the U.S.

The O-1 Visa’s existence destroys the argument for more H-1Bs. If you truly want the “best and brightest” and they’re in another nation, you can get them. There is no limit on the number and no need to fire American workers.

But the businesses don’t get cheap labor they can exploit. Big foreign consultancies can’t make millions throwing bodies at the U.S. either. That’s why we don’t hear about the O-1.

2017 UPDATE: We verified that the O-1 Visa is still active and available, as of October 2017.

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