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Are you an H1B or O1 visa holder looking to extend your stay in the country and explore new opportunities? You are in luck. These two US visas are interchangeable. So, if needed, you can start changing from an H1B to an O1 visa or changing visa status from O-1 to H1-B. In this article, we’ll walk you through the process of exchanging H1B and O1 visa status, giving you the knowledge and instructions you need to do it successfully.

Understanding the H1B and O1 Visas

Before delving into the process of changing from an H1B to an O1 visa status, let’s briefly overview the H1B and O1 visas. A nonimmigrant visa called the H1B enables American employers to hire foreigners for specialized jobs. It needs employer sponsorship and is typically given for six years. The O1 visa, on the other hand, is intended especially for people who have made extraordinary contributions to their respective fields. It enables visitors to work and reside in the US temporarily.

Reasons for Changing from an H1B to an O1 Visa?

There are several reasons why someone might consider changing from an H1B to an O1 visa status. Here are some possible reasons:

  • Extraordinary ability. The O1 visa is intended for people who excel in their fields, whether in the arts, sciences, athletics, education, or business. A person on an H1B visa may be qualified to apply for an O1 visa based on their exceptional skills and accomplishments if they have attained significant professional recognition.
  • Flexibility. Compared to the H1B visa, the O1 visa provides more flexibility. Since H1B visas are tied to a particular employer and job, switching employers or job responsibilities can be difficult. As long as they continue to work in their field of expertise, O1 visa holders, on the other hand, have more freedom to work for multiple employers, be self-employed, or pursue freelance opportunities.
  • Longer duration. Compared to H1B visas, O1 visas typically have a longer duration. O1 visas may be issued for up to three years initially. They may be extended indefinitely in one-year increments, whereas H1B visas are initially granted for a maximum of three years with a potential extension of up to six years.
  • Dependents. O1 visa holders may enter the country with their dependents (spouses and unmarried children under 21) on O3 visas. O3 visa holders can live in the United States with O1 visa holders, and dependents are allowed to go to school or college but not to work.
  • Artistic and entertainment opportunities. Particularly, those in the arts and entertainment industry should submit an O1 visa application. Actors, musicians, artists, and other creative professionals are all able to work in the US and benefit from the many opportunities in the thriving entertainment and artistic industries of the country.

Eligibility for Changing from an H1B to an O1 Visa?

To be eligible for changing from an H1B to an O1 visa status, you must meet the requirements set by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) for the O1 visa category. 

Here are the general eligibility criteria for changing from an H1B to an O1 visa status:

  • Extraordinary ability. You must exhibit exceptional talent in your chosen field, whether in the arts, sciences, business, education, or athletics. You must have sustained national or international acclaim to be recognized for accomplishments that are significantly above what is typical in your field.
  • Proof of extraordinary ability. You must back up your claim of extraordinary ability with a ton of documentation. This could consist of accolades, awards, media coverage, publications, trade association membership, industry contributions, a high salary or remuneration, and other proof of your exceptional accomplishments.
  • Advisory opinion. You must obtain an advisory opinion attesting to your extraordinary ability and that you are moving to the United States to continue working in your field from a relevant labor union, peer group, or professional organization.
  • Job offers or engagements. Although a specific job offer is not necessary for an O1 visa, you must show that you are actively working or participating in your field of extraordinary ability in the US. Contracts, letters of intent, and other legal documents of a similar nature may be used to accomplish this.
  • Duration and scope of work. A schedule of the events or activities you’ll be participating in during your visit to the US must be provided. The length and type of your work, such as performances, projects, lectures, or consultations, should be mentioned here.
  • Consultation requirement. A relevant labor union or management organization in your area of expertise must be consulted if you are in the arts. The consultation is intended to offer a viewpoint on your work and determine whether it meets the criteria for extraordinary.
  • USCIS approval. Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker Form I-129 must be filled out and submitted with all necessary supporting documentation for USCIS approval.

Steps of Changing from an H1B to an O1 Visa

To start changing from an H1B to an O1 visa, you need to follow these general steps:

Determine Eligibility

For changing from an H1B to an O1 visa status, you must examine the requirements for extraordinary ability in your field in the O1 visa category and decide if you meet them.

Consult an Immigration Attorney

Consult a knowledgeable immigration lawyer with experience in visa issues. They can help you with the application process, check your eligibility, and compile the required paperwork.

Collect Supporting Documents

Gather all the evidence you’ll need to prove your extraordinary skill. This could include accolades, articles, press coverage, letters of recommendation, and other documentation demonstrating your exceptional accomplishments and standing in your industry.

Obtain an Advisory Opinion

To get a professional opinion, speak with a relevant labor union, peer group, or organization connected to your industry. Your extraordinary talent and desire to continue working in your field in the United States should be confirmed by this opinion.

File Form I-129

Fill out the official application for the change of status, Form I-129, Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker. Make sure you accurately submit all necessary data and supplementary materials.

Pay the Fees

Together with your Form I-129 submission, include the necessary filing fees. To learn the precise fee amount and the accepted payment methods, check the USCIS website or speak with your lawyer.

Submit the Application

Send the USCIS the filled-out Form I-129, all necessary attachments, and filing fees. For your records, keep copies of all the documents.

Await USCIS Response

After reviewing your application, the USCIS may request more supporting documentation or arrange an interview. Be prepared to provide any information that is requested promptly.

Attend Biometrics Appointment

Attend a biometrics appointment if necessary to submit your fingerprints, picture, and signature for identity verification.

USCIS Decision

The USCIS will decide whether to grant your request for a status change after reviewing your application and supporting materials. If accepted, a Notice of Approval (Form I-797) confirming your new O1 status will be given to you.

Notify Employer

Notify your current H1B employer of your new visa status. They might need to make the necessary adjustments, like ending their H1B employment or changing their working conditions.

Maintain Status

Compliance with visa regulations is essential after successfully changing your visa status to O1. This entails working in a legal job, telling the USCIS about any changes to your address or employer, and staying put for the amount of time allowed under your visa. You can apply for an extension with the USCIS if you want to stay longer than the initial period.

Required Documentation for Changing from an H1B to an O1 Visa Status

To support your O1 visa petition, you must gather specific documentation showcasing your extraordinary ability. Documents for changing from an H1B to an O1 visa status may include the following:

  • Awards and accolades
  • Published articles or books
  • Membership in professional organizations
  • Letters of recommendation from experts in your field
  • Evidence of your significant contributions
  • Contracts or agreements related to your work
  • Media coverage or press releases

Cost of Changing from an H1B to an O1 Visa Status

The cost associated with changing from an H1B to an O1 visa status can include several factors. Here are some potential expenses to consider:

  • USCIS filing fees. Changes may be made to the fee for submitting Form I-129, Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker, which is used to ask for a status change. As far as I’m aware, the base filing fee for Form I-129 is $460, with a deadline in September 2021. However, additional charges, like the ACWIA fee, the fraud prevention and detection fee, and the Public Law 114-113 fee, might be necessary depending on the particulars. The latest fee information can be found on the USCIS website or by speaking with an immigration attorney, as these additional fees vary.
  • Attorney fees. You may have to pay additional fees if you hire an immigration attorney to assist you with the visa change procedure. The cost of your lawyer will depend on your case’s complexity, their reputation, and their experience. Before making a choice, speaking with several attorneys to learn about their costs and services is advisable.
  • Document certification and translation. You might need to have your supporting documents translated by a certified translator if they aren’t in English. The length and complexity of the documents can affect the translation costs.
  • Advisory opinion. Getting an advisory opinion from a relevant labor union, peer group, or professional organization usually costs money. Depending on the organization and the required level of review, the sum can change.
  • Biometrics fee. There may be a separate fee for this procedure if the USCIS requests that you attend a biometrics appointment for fingerprinting and identity verification. The cost of biometrics, as of my knowledge limit, was $85.
  • Optional premium processing. You can choose premium processing if you want your application to be processed more quickly. If this service is offered for O1 visa holders, there is an additional charge of $2,500 as of the deadline. It’s crucial to consult the most recent USCIS fee schedule to confirm the price.

Reasons for Changing Visa Status from O-1 to H1-B

There are a number of reasons why someone might think about changing visa status from O-1 to H-1B visas. Here are some potential explanations:

  • Employment opportunity. The H-1B visa is intended for specialized workers in various occupations, whereas the O-1 visa is specifically for people with exceptional field abilities. An O-1 visa holder may decide to switch to an H-1B visa if they want to work in a position that doesn’t require extraordinary ability, change companies or industries, or both.
  • Duration of stay. The initial stay on an O-1 visa may not exceed three years, with one-year extensions being offered. The H-1B visa, on the other hand, also permits a maximum initial stay of three years, but it can be extended for a total of six years. Switching to an H-1B visa might be an option if someone wants to stay in the US longer.
  • Employer sponsorship. The H-1B visa requires an employer to sponsor the individual, unlike the O-1 visa, which is not dependent on a specific job offer or sponsorship. An O-1 visa holder may decide to switch to an H-1B visa if they wish to work for a particular employer who is willing to sponsor them.
  • Flexibility. The H-1B visa offers more latitude for shifting and changing jobs. While H-1B visa holders can change jobs more easily by transferring their visa sponsorship to a new employer, O-1 visa holders typically need to obtain a new O-1 visa when changing employers.
  • Green card eligibility. The H-1B visa is frequently considered a route to American permanent residency (a “green card”). Pursuing permanent residency and, eventually, citizenship may be possible by switching to an H-1B visa.

Eligibility for Changing Visa Status from O-1 to H1-B

For changing visa status from O-1 to H1-B, you must meet the eligibility requirements set by the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Here are the general eligibility criteria:

  • A job offer. A legitimate job offer from a US company willing to sponsor your H-1B visa is a requirement. On your behalf, the employer must submit an H-1B petition.
  • Specialty occupation. The job you’re being offered must be a “specialty occupation.” This indicates that it requires applying theoretical knowledge and practical skills typically learned through a bachelor’s degree or higher in a particular field.
  • Educational requirements. To fulfill the specialty occupation requirements, you must possess the required training and/or work experience. Typically, this entails having a bachelor’s degree or equivalent in the subject area.
  • Labor Condition Application (LCA). To certify that they will give you working conditions, pay, and benefits that meet or exceed the prevailing standards for comparable positions in the region, your employer must submit an LCA to the Department of Labor (DOL).
  • Numerical limitations. Each fiscal year, a limited number of H-1B visas are available due to an annual cap. Research organizations, nonprofits, and higher education institutions are excluded from the cap, but some people aren’t.
  • Maintenance of status. Before approving your H-1B petition, you must remain in your current O-1 status. This entails abiding by all the requirements for the O-1 visa, such as the limitations on employment and the maintenance of a current I-94 record.

Step of Changing Visa Status from O-1 to H1-B

To change this change, you will need to follow these general steps for changing visa status from O-1 to H1-B:

Step 1. Find an Employer and Obtain a Job Offer

Finding a US employer to sponsor your H-1B visa is crucial for changing your visa status from O-1 to H1-B. The employer must have a position that satisfies the DOL’s (US Department of Labor) standards for specialty occupations.

Step 2. Employer Files an H-1B Petition

As soon as you receive a job offer, your employer must submit an H-1B petition to the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) on your behalf. This entails completing Form I-129, Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker, and attaching necessary supporting records.

Step 3. Labor Condition Application (LCA)

Your employer must obtain a certified Labor Condition Application (LCA) from the DOL before submitting the H-1B petition. The LCA guarantees that you will receive fair working conditions, compensation, and benefits that are on par with or better than industry norms.

Step 4. USCIS Processing and Approval

To determine your eligibility for changing visa status from O-1 to H1-B and whether the job offer and position satisfy the requirements, the USCIS will review the H-1B petition and any supporting documentation. If accepted, you will get an approval notice letting you know your status has changed.

Step 5. Change of Status or Consular Processing 

You can apply for changing visa status from O-1 to H1-B inside the country if you are already present in the country on an O-1 visa. By doing this, you can change to an H-1B visa without leaving the country. An H-1B visa must be obtained through consular processing from a US consulate or embassy in your country of residence if you are outside of the United States.

You might be required to appear for an interview at a US embassy or consulate in your country of residence after the USCIS approves your H1B petition. The interview aims to confirm the details in your application and determine whether you qualify for an H1B visa.

The next step in changing visa status from O-1 to H1-B is consular processing, which comes after the interview. This entails delivering additional paperwork to the American embassy or consulate to obtain a visa. Before making a decision, the consular officer will evaluate your application and any supporting documentation.

You can choose premium processing by paying an extra fee for expedited processing. The USCIS will decide more quickly with this service, usually within 15 calendar days.

Step 6. Start Working on H-1B Status

You can start working for the company that sponsored your H-1B visa once your H-1B status has been approved and you have either changed or obtained an H-1B visa. Maintaining your legal status in the US is essential. Until the H1B visa is accepted and goes into effect, make sure you follow the rules of your O1 visa.

Required Documentation for Changing Visa Status from O-1 to H1-B

When filing the H1B petition, you’ll need to submit various documents, such as:

  • Form I-129, Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker
  • Labor Condition Application (LCA)
  • Copy of your passport
  • Proof of your educational qualifications
  • Employment offer letter
  • Documentation supporting your specialized knowledge and skills
  • Ensure that you carefully gather and submit all required documentation to avoid delays or potential issues with your application.

Potential Challenges and Solutions for Changing Visa Status from O-1 to H1-B

Changing visa status can come with its challenges. Some potential challenges include:

  • Complex paperwork. Several forms and supporting documents are required to change a visa’s status. Getting expert help can help guarantee accuracy and compliance.
  • Limited annual cap. There is an annual cap on H1B visas, and supply is frequently insufficient. To improve your chances of receiving an H1B visa, filing your petition as soon as possible is crucial.
  • Meeting specialized knowledge criteria. For the H1B visa, your job offer must satisfy the standards for specialized knowledge. Gathering proof of your credentials and experience supporting your claims is crucial.

Cost of Changing Visa Status from O-1 to H1-B

The price of changing visa status from O-1 to H1-B can differ depending on a number of variables, including attorney fees, government filing fees, and any other application-related expenses. 

The following are some potential costs you might incur:

  • Attorney fees. The cost of hiring an immigration lawyer to help you with the visa status change process will depend on your case’s complexity, experience, and expertise. Before moving forward, speaking with attorneys and learning about their fees is advisable.
  • USCIS filing fees. The H-1B petition (Form I-129) is subject to a filing fee from the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). The USCIS website lists the current filing fee, which is subject to change. For premium processing or other optional services, there might be extra costs.
  • Department of Labor (DOL) fees. Your employer is required to submit a certified Labor Condition Application (LCA) to the DOL as part of the H-1B procedure. The LCA is free to use, according to the DOL.
  • Miscellaneous expenses. Suppose you need to visit a US consulate or embassy for consular processing. In that case, you might have to pay extra for document translation, credential evaluation (if your education credentials are from outside the US), and travel expenses. Additional costs may also apply depending on your specific situation.

Can I Have Both O-1 and H-1B?

It is possible to hold an O-1 and an H-1B visa at various points during your immigration process. The H-1B visa is intended for specialized workers in various occupations, whereas the O-1 visa is specifically for people with exceptional field abilities. 

Here are a few situations in which you might possess both visas:

  • Dual intent. The O-1 visa is a non-immigrant visa, which means it is only meant for short-term stays in the US. With an O-1 visa, it is possible to have “dual intent,” though, which means you can intend to pursue permanent residence (a green card) while continuing to be a non-immigrant. In this situation, you can hold an O-1 and an H-1B visa while pursuing employer-sponsored green card status.
  • The transition from O-1 to H-1B. If you already have an O-1 visa and choose to change jobs or pursue a different career path, you can apply for an H-1B visa. Finding an employer willing to sponsor your H-1B visa, fulfilling the requirements, and going through the application process to obtain the H-1B visa are all necessary steps in this transition. Until the change is approved, you must maintain your O-1 status.

Is H-1B Better than O-1?

Depending on your unique situation, objectives, and eligibility, you should choose between an O-1 and an H-1B visa. Both visas have benefits and things to keep in mind. When thinking about changing visa status from O-1 to H-1B, keep the following important factors in mind:

  • Eligibility requirements. For people with specialized knowledge or a bachelor’s degree or higher in a particular field, the H-1B visa is intended. The O-1 visa, on the other hand, is reserved for people who have achieved exceptionally well in their field. Compared to the H-1B visa, the O-1 visa has a higher bar for achievement and recognition.
  • Industry and occupation. The H-1B visa is more frequently used in various professions and industries. It is frequently used in industries like IT, engineering, finance, and healthcare. The O-1 visa, on the other hand, is typically requested by people who have excelled in their respective fields of the arts, sciences, athletics, education, or business.
  • Duration and extensions. The H-1B visa initially permits a stay of no more than three years, with a potential extension of up to six years. The initial length of the O-1 visa can be up to three years, and there is no cap on how many times it can be extended. O-1 visa holders can extend their stay by one-year increments as long as they maintain their extraordinary ability or achievement.
  • Employer sponsorship and flexibility. A US employer must sponsor the H-1B visa, and it is linked to that particular employer and job. Under the H-1B visa, switching employers or job responsibilities can be difficult. The O-1 visa, in contrast, provides greater flexibility, enabling individuals to work for multiple employers, pursue self-employment, or accept freelance opportunities, provided that they continue to operate in their area of extraordinary ability.
  • Dependents. Dependents (spouses and unmarried children under 21) may travel with the primary visa holder on the H-1B and O-1 visas. Dependents of H-1B workers enter the country on H-4 visas, while those of O-1 workers enter on O-3 visas. O-3 dependents are not permitted to work, whereas H-4 dependents may apply for work authorization.
  • Green Card sponsorship. The H-1B visa offers a more direct route through employment-based sponsorship for people seeking permanent residency (green card) in the United States. O-1 visa holders cannot apply for a green card directly, but they may be able to do so through other employment-based or extraordinary ability categories.

Can I Transfer my O-1 Visa?

You cannot change employers while holding an O-1 visa, so no. The O-1 visa does not have a specific clause for transferring sponsorship, unlike the H-1B visa, which permits simple transfer between employers through a procedure known as “H-1B transfer.”

While you are on an O-1 visa, if you want to change employers, your new employer must submit a new O-1 petition on your behalf, proving that you still meet the requirements for the O-1 visa due to your extraordinary ability in your field.

Evidence and documentation supporting your continued extraordinary ability and the job offer from the new employer must be included in the new O-1 petition. The new petition will be examined by US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), who will decide whether to approve the change of employer.

Is H-1B or O-1 Better for a Green Card?

Now that you know about changing from an H1B to an O1 visa status, let’s discuss their differences more. Although the procedures and choices are different, the H-1B and O-1 visas can be stepping stones to obtaining a green card (permanent residency) in the United States. Here is a summary:

H-1B Visa and Green Card 

Direct employment-based sponsorship for a green card is possible with the H-1B visa. Many H-1B visa holders work toward getting a green card based on their employment, usually through their sponsoring employer. An immigrant petition (Form I-140) and a labor certification (PERM) are filed by the employer with the Department of Labor (DOL) and the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), respectively. Once the I-140 has been approved, the last step to obtaining a green card is to file an adjustment of status (Form I-485).

O-1 Visa and Green Card

O-1 visa holders can pursue a green card through other employment-based or extraordinary ability categories even though the O-1 visa does not lead to one. Based on their exceptional ability, they can submit a Form I-140 employment-based immigrant petition or an NIW if their work is deemed national significance. The application for an adjustment of status (Form I-485) or consular processing would then start the green card procedure.

Extraordinary Ability Category

For some people seeking a green card, the O-1 visa may be advantageous for people with exceptional ability or achievement in their field. A labor certification (PERM) from the DOL is unnecessary for the extraordinary ability category (EB-1A), which can speed up the procedure. If you meet the requirements for extraordinary ability, you might be able to apply for a green card on your own without employer sponsorship.

Let’s Sum Up

You can explore new options and improve your career prospects in the US by changing from an H1B to an O1 visa status or changing visa status from O-1 to H1-B. You can complete the process by being aware of the requirements, gathering the required evidence, locating a US sponsor or employer, and submitting an exhaustive visa petition. To improve your chances of success, remember to seek personalized advice from an immigration lawyer throughout the application process.

FAQs

Can I change my visa status from H1B to O1 without a job offer?

No, you require a sponsor or employer in the United States willing to submit the O1 visa petition on your behalf to change your visa status from H1B to O1.

Can I travel outside the United States during the O1 visa application process?

Yes, you are allowed to leave the country, but it is advised that you speak with an immigration lawyer to make sure you have the right paperwork for returning.

How long does changing the visa status from H1B to O1 take?

Variable processing times apply when changing a visa’s status. The USCIS website should be checked for the most recent details on processing times.

Can I extend my stay on the O1 visa?

Yes, you may petition the USCIS to extend your stay on an O1 visa.

What happens if my O1 visa petition is denied?

If your application for an O1 visa is rejected, you can speak with an immigration lawyer to investigate your other options or reapply with more persuasive evidence.

Can I change my visa status from O1 to H1B without a job offer?

No, to switch your visa status from O1 to H1B, you must have a job offer from a US employer.

Is there a limit on the number of H1B visas issued yearly?

The H1B visa has an annual cap, and only a certain number of them are available.

Can I travel internationally while my H1B petition is pending?

In order to prevent potential issues, it is generally advised to stay away from international travel while your H1B petition is still being processed.

How long does changing visa status from O-1 to H1-B take?

Although the processing time can vary, switching your visa status from O1 to H1B typically takes several months.

Can I change employers after obtaining an H1B visa?

Switching employers after receiving an H1B visa is possible, but you must follow the correct steps and submit a new H1B petition.

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