An O-1 visa is a temporary employment visa that requires an employer or agent petitioner. O visas are granted for the duration of an "event" (i.e. a grant, project, tour, etc.) and for an initial period of no longer than three years. Extensions for the O visa are easy and unlimited, usually granted in increments of 1 year at a time.
When an employer is the petitioner, the beneficiary only works for the employer. If the beneficiary wishes to work for more than one employer, they may either file concurrent O-1 petitions or consider filing with an agent petitioner.
An agent petitioner allows the beneficiary to work for more than one employer, provided that each employer signs a contract with the petitioner. The adjudicating entity, United States Citizenship Immigration Services (USCIS), also requires a contract between the beneficiary and the employer regarding the terms of the employment.
An agent petitioner does not necessarily need to be an agent by definition. It can be someone in the beneficiary's field willing to sponsor the beneficiary for up to 3 years. A U.S. Agent may be the actual employer of the beneficiary, the representative of both the employer and the beneficiary, or a person or entity authorized by the employer to act for, or in place of, the employer as its agent.
Case Study 1: Juan Montes is an actor who wants to work for several theater companies, as well as teach improvisational workshops at local high schools and community colleges. It would be difficult for Juan to be sponsored by each of these employers separately because most of the events are short term and spaced out. The schools are only offering Juan two workshops per semester, Theater Company A is only casting Juan's role for a 3 month season, and Playhouse B can't cast Juan until next year. Juan is in contact with an Art Director who is interested in his work and wants to help him. The Art Director cannot hire him for any work, but she can help set up opportunities and be the petitioner for his visa.
Case Study 2: Melissa Burke is a special effects artist and Pixar Studios is interested in hiring her for a three-year period. For Melissa, this is a dream job, but Pixar only wants to hire her on a part-time basis -- 15 hours per week. She has other jobs lined up, but does not want to lose this opportunity. Pixar wants neither to act as Melissa's agent petitioner, nor be an employer managed by an agent. Instead Pixar is offering to file an O-1 visa for Melissa as her Employer Petitioner. If Melissa wants to pursue freelance work outside of Pixar, she must file another O-1 visa with an agent petitioner or another employer.
To view the documents & information required from O-1 petitioners, please see our checklists page.