The cost of an O-1 visa

Created: January 5, 2024
Last Modified: January 5, 2024

Not legal advice.

I estimate that the O-1 visa process:

  1. Cost me around $37k in resources and time working towards the visa (“accounting terms”), or $77k in resources, time working towards the visa, and time not working as a result of waiting for the visa (“economic terms”).
  2. Would have taken ~8 months excluding unrelated delays.

Links to code for these estimates here and here.

The main cost estimate – accounting cost – consists of my time (~$12k), my PA’s time (~$7k), lawyer fees ($11k), administrative costs ($3k), and necessary organization expenses (~$4k). The “economic cost” includes the above, plus missed pay for work I would have otherwise done (~$41k), plus taxes I am implicitly committed to paying out of savings (~$3k). (Note that it is highly ambiguous what to include in economic cost. If you included e.g. increased wages during the visa, economic cost could even be negative.)

The time estimate captures something like “time it would have taken if actual time to complete tasks were laid out sequentially, without delay in between tasks.” (So it is shorter than the calendar time the process took from lawyer intro to finish – 477 days.) Around 1.5 months are due to lawyers, around 2.5 due to me, and around 4 due to government.

Your own mileage may vary. Some factors that probably differ from your case:

  1. I was quasi-self-petitioning (see excellent posts on this from Harshita Arora and Jose Luis Ricon), so took on a lot of the costs that might otherwise be paid for by an employer.
  2. I paid >$10k for a lawyer because the process felt so high stakes. Others report writing their own application.
    1. Bay Immigration Law/TJ Albrecht, h/t Alexey Guzey.
    2. I would strongly recommend TJ. By my count, TJ and I have sent close to 100 emails each to one another over the past 1.5 years. Mine were often anxious, stakesy, and confused; his were patient, clear (how many lawyers give you probability estimates?!), and extremely responsive.
      1. It’s plausible (counterfactual unclear) that my process went faster by around 120 days at the end because I pushed against TJ’s default advice, with his support. But, frankly, even if TJ did make a mistake here, the possible consequence would have been tiny relative to other lawyer mistakes I needed to correct in 2023.
  3. I had already ticked a number of O-1 boxes before I started the process. But it wasn’t clear that this would be enough – I did a bunch of extra work on the Judging criterion to sure-up my petition.
  4. I didn’t have any RFE delay, but did have a mid-length 221g delay.