I Got my US Visa to Work as an Actress and You Can Too!

Yesterday I got some news I’ve been waiting for since the day after I decided to become a professional actress (I was too nervous the first day to think beyond the drop-in class I went to at the Second City in Toronto).

Yesterday I was approved for my O1 visa.

Those who know what that means are likely living through the hell of preparing their application, are seriously considering entering the hell of that preparation, or have flirted with the idea, but are waiting to see if the US economy will self destruct under a Trump presidency.

This article is for the first all of you (because he’s not getting elected).

Below is a step-by-painful-step to the end of the work Rainbow.

STEP ONE: Assess your chances.

Your best bet is to speak to a lawyer. Most of them will do a free half hour with you to let you know what you will need to prepare to qualify. I suggest you do your research first because questions beget questions in this process and most answers in the early stages are available online — also because the more work you do, the less it will cost you. A Visa is anywhere from $4k — $7k depending on who you work with and how much you have done in advance of going to them.

At the end of this article is a list of Evidentiary Criteria needed for the O1 Visa to be approved. Keep in mind that evidence is needed for all of these points to be proven. So screen shots, letters, photographs, pay stubs, news articles, etc will need to be collected.

STEP TWO: Get Organized.

I set up my application in google drive and created a bunch of folders for each of the criteria I needed to prove, and had a separate folder for support letters (which take the longest — see below). Google drive is a great place to keep everything since you will eventually need to have lawyers accessing the files and you want to be able to update it frequently until it is submitted.

STEP THREE: Google yo’self.

Start at the top of the list and go deep deep deep. Grab screenshots with images of everything you find and start adding it to folders where you think it is most relevant. IMDb credits (I took a pdf of each one), IMDb star meter history, likes on all your social media, red carpet photos, articles written about you, press about films or shows you’ve been in, evidence of awards or nominations (I asked for certificates of nomination from places where I was nominated for things I didn’t win), evidences of screenings of films you were in (I googled each title of each film I was in to find press I may not have been mentioned in).

STEP FOUR: Create a list of folks to approach for letters of support.

I had a short list of about 40 people and ended up with 20 letters. You only need about 6 or 7, but I wanted to have enough to support all of my claims in every category and I didn’t have a lawyer engaged while I was writing the letters (most people ask you to write the letters for them and then they sign). Lawyers will write the letters for you, but many of them charge extra for this so I wanted to do it myself. I asked friends who had been successful at getting their visas for their letters of support and used those as templates for my letters. I also had a friend help me write some of them before sending to my supporters to edit and sign.

*important note — the best order to approach this effort is to 1. ask the supporter if they will be willing to write a letter on your behalf, and that you’d be happy to write it and have them edit and sign so the language supports the petition; 2. write the letter; 3. show your lawyer; 4. have the letter signed, edited and put on letter head by your petitioner. You don’t need original copies of the letters so they can email you a pdf and you can upload it right into your drive.

STEP FIVE: Make everything a big deal.

If you don’t have a lot of evidence for your projects, or you are just starting out in your career — you can make your life easier by collecting documents now, and by promoting the projects you are in so that you can then collect evidence of how a big a deal it is that you were in said project. If you hate self promotion then you are going to have to get over it unless you can afford to hire a publicist.

STEP SIX: Create your own work.

Most of the credits that were deemed important enough for my application were shorts or web series’ that I created myself. Meaning I wrote, produced, starred in and sometimes directed them. I can not stress enough that waiting to be discovered or to have someone make you a star is like waiting to win the lottery instead of getting a job.

Here is the list of criteria for your reference. Good Luck!

Evidentiary Criteria for O-1B

Evidence that the beneficiary has received, or been nominated for, significant national or international awards or prizes in the particular field, such as an Academy Award, Emmy, Grammy or Director’s Guild Award, or evidence of at least (3) three of the following:

  • 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

If the above standards do not readily apply to the beneficiary’s occupation in the arts, the petitioner may submit comparable evidence in order to establish eligibility (this exception does not apply to the motion picture or television industry).

* Criteria for Demonstrating Extraordinary Ability

You must meet 3 out of the 10 listed criteria below to prove extraordinary ability in your field:

  • Evidence of receipt of lesser nationally or internationally recognized prizes or awards for excellence
  • Evidence of your membership in associations in the field which demand outstanding achievement of their members
  • Evidence of published material about you in professional or major trade publications or other major media
  • Evidence that you have been asked to judge the work of others, either individually or on a panel
  • Evidence of your original scientific, scholarly, artistic, athletic, or business-related contributions of major significance to the field
  • Evidence of your authorship of scholarly articles in professional or major trade publications or other major media
  • Evidence that your work has been displayed at artistic exhibitions or showcases
  • Evidence of your performance of a leading or critical role in distinguished organizations
  • Evidence that you command a high salary or other significantly high remuneration in relation to others in the field
  • Evidence of your commercial successes in the performing arts
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