Dear Sophie: Is it easier and faster to get an O-1A than an EB-1A?

Sophie Alcorn
·6 mins read

Here's another edition of “Dear Sophie,” the advice column that answers immigration-related questions about working at technology companies.

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Dear Sophie:

Is it easier and faster to get an O-1A extraordinary ability visa than an EB-1A extraordinary ability green card? What are the pros and cons of each?

—Outstanding in Oakland

Dear Outstanding:

Thanks so much for your timely questions about the extraordinary ability visa and green card. The short answer to your first question is yes, the O-1A visa is generally easier and faster to get than an EB-1A green card. In fact, I once helped a client get an O-1A approved in three days — of course, that was before the COVID-19 pandemic.

We recently launched “Extraordinary Ability Bootcamp,” a new, 15-module online course that takes a deep dive into the O-1A extraordinary ability nonimmigrant (temporary) visa, the EB-1A extraordinary ability green card, the EB-2 NIW (National Interest Waiver for exceptional ability) and what it takes to file a successful application in each category. Check my podcast where I discuss the Bootcamp in more detail. Register for the Extraordinary Ability Bootcamp and use code DEARSOPHIE for 20% off the enrollment fee.

In general, the requirements for a green card, which enable its holder to live permanently in the U.S., are more stringent than those for nonimmigrant visas, which only allow a temporary stay in the U.S. And U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) typically takes longer to process green card petitions than nonimmigrant visa petitions. Moreover, the U.S. imposes numerical and per-country caps on the number of green cards issued each year, which means some green card categories for people born in some countries, such as India and China, face long waits. Only a few visas have an annual cap (like the H-1B), but the O-1A visa is not one of them.

That said, the EB-1A has one of the shortest USCIS processing times, compared to other employment-based green cards. Also, EB-1A petitions are eligible for premium processing, which requires USCIS to make a decision on a petition within 15 days (whether it is “calendar” days or “business” days is currently in flux!). The I-140 petition can be adjudicated quickly in a few weeks, but for somebody whose priority date is “current” on the Visa Bulletin, the determining factor for how long a green card takes is often the I-485 processing time in the local field office. Recently that’s been taking about 1.5-2 years for interviews in the Bay Area.

Meanwhile, nonimmigration visa petitions can face delays for a number of reasons, but a delay happens most often when USCIS responds to a petition with a Request for Evidence (RFE). An RFE is a written notice from USCIS seeking additional evidence to make a decision on a case. During the past few years, the number of RFEs issued by USCIS for both visas and green cards has increased substantially.

Last month (September 2020) USCIS extended its policy of giving petitioners an extra 60 calendar days to respond to certain USCIS notices, including RFEs, intent to deny, revoke, rescind and terminate due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. For any of these notices dated between March 1, 2020, and January 1, 2021, a timely response will be considered 60 days after the date listed on the notice. Whether you want to take advantage of this extra time is a conversation to have with your attorney, based on the strength of your pending petition and the urgency of getting an approval.

As you probably know, the O-1A visa is for individuals who have achieved national or international acclaim and have risen to the top of their field in the areas of science, education, business or athletics. The EB-1A enables individuals who have achieved substantial international or national success in their field due to their extraordinary talent to live permanently in the U.S.

Here’s a summary of the pros and cons of the O-1A and the EB-1A:

O-1A NONIMMIGRANT VISA

(Temporary Stay)

EB-1A GREEN CARD

(Permanent Residence)

Pros

Pros

Cons

Cons

Keep in mind that like the EB-1, the EB-2 NIW (National Interest Waiver) green card does not require an employer sponsor. However, the eligibility requirements for the EB-2 NIW are less stringent than for the EB-1A. For individuals born in India and China, the downside to the EB-2 NIW green card is that they face a much longer wait compared to the EB-1A. Unlike the EB-1A, premium processing is not available for EB-2 NIW petitions.

Remember, U.S. embassies and consulates are not processing green cards so you should try to apply for a green card while you remain in legal status in the U.S. Otherwise, you may have to return to and stay in your home country for a while.

Still, getting a visa or green card abroad remains possible. I recommend working with an experienced immigration attorney to discuss which options best match your accomplishments, goals and timing. Remember, you can sign up for Bootcamp and use code DEARSOPHIE for 20% off the enrollment fee to get qualified!

All my best,

Sophie

Have a question? Ask it here. We reserve the right to edit your submission for clarity and/or space. The information provided in “Dear Sophie” is general information and not legal advice. For more information on the limitations of “Dear Sophie,” please view our full disclaimer here. You can contact Sophie directly at Alcorn Immigration Law.

Sophie's podcast, Immigration Law for Tech Startups, is available on all major podcast platforms. If you'd like to be a guest, she's accepting applications!