The O-1 Visa: What to know when bringing your talents stateside

So you want to bring your art stateside. The bright lights, the stars, it’s been calling you. You’ve got the drive. You’ve got the talent. That’s not the issue at hand. You’ve just got to get that paperwork in order to pursue your dreams on the shores of the United States.

That paperwork is called the O-1B visa. The visa, according the the United States Department of Homeland Security, covers “ individuals with an extraordinary ability in the arts or extraordinary achievement in motion picture or television industry”. Does that sound like you? If so, then congratulations! You’re one step closer to realizing your dreams of performing legally in the United States. However, you might have a few other questions, and here are some answers.


Q: Can I bring my family?

A: Yes, your family can apply for the visa status along with you, as long as these family members are directly related, i.e. your spouse and children.

Q: I’ve got bandmates/co-stars who are necessary to my success in America. Can they join me?

A: Yes, with some stipulations. This visa is called the O-2. According to the Department of Homeland Security, The O-2 worker has critical skills and experience with the O-1 that cannot be readily performed by a U.S. worker and which are essential to the successful performance of the O-1". For example, if you are putting on a production of a play and there is choreographed work that you can prove cannot be done by anyone but your selected choreographer who needs a visa, they can be granted an O-2. Be sure to check with the Department of Homeland Security and consider legal advice before making any decisions on this visa.

Q: Are there eligibility requirements?

A: Yes, but this is an open-ended definition. According to our friends at Homeland Security, you need “distinction” within the arts.

Q: Distinction? That sounds kind of vague.

A: We’ll defer to Homeland Security’s definition here.

“Distinction means a high level of achievement in the field of the arts evidenced by a degree of skill and recognition substantially above that ordinarily encountered to the extent that a person described as prominent is renowned, leading, or well-known in the field of arts.

To qualify for an O-1 visa in the motion picture or television industry, the beneficiary must demonstrate extraordinary achievement evidenced by a degree of skill and recognition significantly above that ordinarily encountered to the extent the person is recognized as outstanding, notable or leading in the motion picture and/or television field.”

While the wording mentions motion picture and television, it refers to all types of performance art.

Q: I think I’ve got distinction! What do I need to fill out?

A: It wouldn’t be the U.S. Government if you didn’t have to fill out paperwork. Here’s what you’ll need to get filled out and what to do:

  • Form I-129, Petition for Nonimmigrant Workers
  • A written and watermarked consultation from a peer group (including labor organizations, that can vouch for your ability

Q: Consultation? That sounds a little confusing. Is there more to it?

A: Yes. You need organizations to know about you and vouch for your skills. This can include a management company, a union, or other performers in your field who can attest to your skill set.

Q: I heard something about needing to get press. Is that true?

A: Yes and no. The Department of Homeland Security outlines a number of markers to apply for/renew an O-1B visa. They are as follows, and to qualify, you’ll need to fulfill at least three.

  • Performed and will perform services as a lead or starring participant in productions or events which have a distinguished reputation as evidenced by critical reviews, advertisements, publicity releases, publications, contracts or endorsements
  • Achieved national or international recognition for achievements, as shown by critical reviews or other published materials by or about the beneficiary in major newspapers, trade journals, magazines, or other publications
  • Performed and will perform in a lead, starring, or critical role for organizations and establishments that have a distinguished reputation as evidenced by articles in newspapers, trade journals, publications, or testimonials.
  • A record of major commercial or critically acclaimed successes, as shown by such indicators as title, rating or standing in the field, box office receipts, motion picture or television ratings and other occupational achievements reported in trade journals, major newspapers or other publications
  • Received significant recognition for achievements from organizations, critics, government agencies or other recognized experts in the field in which the beneficiary is engaged, with the testimonials clearly indicating the author’s authority, expertise and knowledge of the beneficiary’s achievements
  • A high salary or other substantial remuneration for services in relation to others in the field, as shown by contracts or other reliable evidence

Q: I can do all of this? How long can I stay in the country on the first visa?

A: Three years.

Q: Is it possible to extend it?

A: Yes. You’ll need another I-129 form, an I-94 form with your arrival record, and a statement of cause for extending your visa.

It might seem daunting to look over all those steps and all that paperwork, but it is definitely possible to attain the proper visa you’ll need in order to make the trip to the United States to pursue your passions in the arts. All the world’s a stage, and by following the above steps, you can get closer to taking the stage in the States.

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