O-1 Visa: For Artists, Entertainers, Photographers & Others with Extraordinary Ability

Would you like to work in the U.S.?  Are you an extraordinary artist or photographer?

The arts and entertainment industries add vibrancy to the diverse societies and cultures. Whether to shoot a new film or segment, attend a conference or awards show, conduct an interview or even just to scout locations, the right visa can make all the difference.

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The United States attracts a lot of creative types from all over the world. Once they experience the creative vitality of places like Los Angeles or New York, they often want to stay. However, as most people know, you have to obtain some paperwork authorizing you to live and work in the U.S. legally.

The O-1 visa is probably one of the work visas which tends to get over-looked a lot! Unlike the H1-B visas which requires a quota, the O-1 visa does not. While most workers are set on obtaining their H1-B visas before the numbers run out, the O-1 visa sits in the corner. This visa category is the perfect visa for artists, photographers, designers and consultants who do not have full-time permanent position, but rather undertake a series of short-term temporary assignments.  Like most work visas, the O-1 visa category does require you to have a U.S employer or agent to file a petition on your behalf.

An O-1 visa holder may work in the U.S. on a freelance basis under the representation of an agent or management company, or they may work directly for a particular company. Individuals must exhibit a demonstrated record of success and recognition in their field of endeavor. There is no educational requirement for the O-1 visa.


Who Qualifies For An O-1 Visa?

Artists with extraordinary ability in artistic areas of fine arts, photography, theater, dance, film, music, fashion, martial arts, healing arts and culinary arts. Aliens engaged in the Arts include not only the principal creators and performers, but other essential persons, such as directors, set designers, lighting designers, sound designers, choreographers, conductors, orchestrators, coaches, arrangers, musical supervisors, costume designers, makeup artists, fight masters and stage technicians.

What Kind of Proof Will I Need: The “Noble Prize” Equivalent

Unfortunately, this visa type is most misunderstood because the regulation states that the beneficiary (i.e. the artist, photographer, etc.) must show evidence that he/she “received major, internationally-recognized award, such as a Nobel Prize…” (See O-1A criteria). Of course, this is enough to scare any one off – even the most qualified individuals. However, in practice, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will consider other supporting evidence, but not limited to CV/Resumes, letters of recommendation, portfolios, print media about you, promotional materials or websites that name or cite you, as well as the overall O-1 visa petition.

Contract Required

A copy of any written contract between the petitioner (i.e employer or agent) and the beneficiary or a summary of the terms of the oral agreement under which the beneficiary will be employed is also required.

USCIS will accept evidence to support an oral agreement. Such evidence may include but not limited to emails between the parties showing a summary of the agreement. The summary does not have to be signed by both parties to establish the oral agreement. However, it must document the terms of the employment offered and that the beneficiary has agreed to the offer.

Consultation Letter/Advisory Opinion

In addition to evidence of extraordinary abilities, O-1 visa applicants are required to submit a consultation opinion/letter with their application from the relevant labor union, a professional organization or individual experts in their field. (See O-1A criteria). Because this visa category was created for the performing arts and professional sports in mind, if you have worked in any field that has a labor union, that group must be consulted. If the application does not include an advisory opinion, the USCIS will attempt to contact a peer group directly. If no peer group exists, the USCIS will make a decision without a peer group consultation.  A consultation may be waived if the beneficiary seeks readmission to perform similar services within 2 years of the date of a previous consultation with the petition.

Length of Stay and Renewals

An O-1 visa may be granted for up to three years and renewed in one year increments or until the project is finished.

For more information about the O-1 visa or other work visa categories contact our office.

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