To qualify as an “extraordinary ability alien,” the physician must demonstrate “a level of expertise indicating that the person is one of the small percentage who have risen to the very top of the field of endeavor.” Specifically, the physician must be the recipient of either a major, internationally-recognized award, or at least three of the following distinctions:
- The physician has received nationally or internationally recognized prizes or awards for excellence in his area of expertise;
- The physician belongs to professional associations requiring outstanding achievements of their members, as judged by recognized national or international experts;
- The physician has been the subject of articles in major media or trade publications relating to his work;
- The physician has participated on a panel or as a judge of the work of others in his area of practice;
- The physician has made original scientific or scholarly contributions of major significance;
- The physician has written scholarly articles that have been published in professional journals or other major media;
- The physician has worked in a critical capacity for an organization with a distinguished reputation in the field of medicine; and
- The physician has commanded a high salary or other compensation.
The O-1 visa is not an option for most physicians. However, for the rare physician who qualifies as an “extraordinary ability alien,” there are significant advantages to this type of visa. For example, the O-1 visa can be used to avoid the two-year foreign residency requirement of the J-1 visa. Therefore, rather than being restricted to employers who will sponsor them for an IGA waiver, the extraordinary ability physician may work for any employer willing to sponsor him for the O-1 visa. However, the physician must eventually comply with the two-year foreign residency requirement or obtain a waiver, if they ever plan to become a permanent resident.
Also, the O-1 visa may be used by the physician who has reached the six-year limitation period of the H-1B visa and cannot extend any further. In such a case, the physician can extend their employment indefinitely if their employer's O-1 petition is approved.