The O-1 visa is designed for aliens of extraordinary ability or achievement in the sciences, education, business, athletics, and arts. "Extraordinary ability" means that the individual is one of the small percentage who has risen to the very top of their field of endeavor. To qualify for O-1 classification, aliens of extraordinary ability must demonstrate sustained national or international acclaim and recognition for achievements in the field of expertise.
The O-1 visa is similar to the "Extraordinary Ability" EB-1 permanent residency category, in that it is meant for only those who have risen to the very top of their field. Unlike the extraordinary ability green card category, an O-1 visa or status cannot be processed as a "self-petition." Rather, an employer must file the petition on behalf of the beneficiary.
Initially, O-1 visa status is valid for up to 3 years, with 1 year incremental extensions available based upon the "duration of the event" for which the visa status is granted. Thus, there is no limit on the time an O1 holder staying in the U.S.
Spouses and dependent children of O-1 visa holders do not receive the status, but instead qualify for O-3 visas.