O-1A Criteria for Startup Founders

You’ll remember from our O-1A FAQs post, that there are eight criteria for the O-1A visa. The good news is you only have to meet a minimum of three criteria to qualify for the O-1A. What’s even better news is that if you’re a venture-backed founder, you likely already meet three criteria. If you also went through an accelerator, you likely meet FOUR criteria.

In this post, we will dive into each of these eight criteria. At a glance they include:

Criteria You meet this criterion if…
Awards You raised venture capital
Critical Employment You founded a venture-backed company
Press You get coverage in major media
Judging You’ve judged a startup competition
Memberships You’ve gone through an accelerator
High Remuneration You have significant equity in a venture-backed company
Scholarly Articles You’ve authored scholarly articles
Original Contributions You invented something original. This one is pretty subjective, but we can talk about it with you!


Not many people know this, but venture capital is classified as an award! If you’ve raised funding for your startup, you already likely meet this requirement. If you haven’t raised venture capital, there are other qualifications you can meet, but raising money is really strong evidence of an award. There is no minimum amount of capital required—Legalpad has helped founders get visas who have raised less than $50,000 and more than $200,000,000!

More traditionally, awards like Forbes 30 Under 30 or Thiel Fellowship also count for this criteria.

Critical Employment

For this category, USCIS wants you to prove that you are a ‘critical’ employee at your startup. By virtue of being a founder, you are automatically viewed as an essential player for your company’s success. Beyond getting press about how awesome you are, you can demonstrate critical employment by including letters from your company that explain your role as a founder.


Getting yourself or your startup featured in major media or industry publications meets this criteria. Featured in TechCrunch? Check! Interviewed by the Wall Street Journal? Yes! Your buddy’s blog? Unless your buddy’s name is Kara Swisher, we may need to talk about this more…


As a startup founder, a great way to meet this requirement is to judge a startup competition. USCIS wants to know if you’re important and smart enough to judge other people’s work in your field. If you’ve been a judge at Startup Weekend, let the world know about it!

Keep in mind that student competitions don’t typically meet the judging requirements, so make sure you are judging an event for professionals rather than students.


This requirement is met if you are a member of an organization which requires outstanding achievements as judged by recognized experts in the same field. That’s a mouthful, but essentially, if you’re a part of a group that’s hard to get into, like a highly-selective accelerator program (ahem, Techstars), you easily meet this requirement!

High Remuneration

If you have or have owned significant equity in a venture-backed company, you meet this criteria. You don’t need to be paid in cash money (the struggle is real)!

Scholarly Articles

Have you authored any scholarly articles? For example, if you have a PhD that’s relevant to your startup’s work, and your research papers were peer-reviewed and published, a) you are very smart and dedicated and b) USCIS thinks you’re extraordinary!

Original Contributions

This category is super subjective. You’ll need to have invented something of ‘significance’, whatever that means,  and be able to prove that through letters, and other pieces of evidence. This may require more discussion as it’s very open to interpretation. While we obviously think you’re awesome, amazing, extraordinary, there may be additional legwork here to make sure that USCIS knows it too.

All of these requirements may seem like a lot at first, but it’s also no coincidence that these achievements are very familiar to you. The O-1A visa is usually the best option for startup entrepreneurs like you because it really captures everything you’ve accomplished to get to where you are! 

We’re always happy to be a resource for enterprising companies and people like you–reach out to us any time for your immigration questions and needs!