O-1 Visas for Artists and Motion Picture/Television Stars
Foreign nationals who demonstrate distinction in the arts may be eligible for the O-1A visa. Actors and actresses who have a record of outstanding achievement in the motion picture and television industry may apply for the O-1B visa.
For O-1A artists, “distinction” means a high level of achievement in the arts evidence by a degree of skill and recognition substantially above that ordinarily encountered. The objective is for the artist to show they are described as renowned, prominent, or leading in their artistic endeavor. The “arts” includes fine arts, visual arts, and performing arts, but also any other field of creative activity or endeavor. Distinguished chefs are able to utilize the O-1A visa for their work in the culinary arts. Puppeteering was described as an art form in a precedential BIA case. But the O-1A visa extends beyond principal creators and performers to include directors, set designers, lighting designers, sound designers, choreographers, choreologists, conductors, orchestrators, coaches, arrangers, musical supervisors, costume designers, makeup artists, flight masters, stage technicians, and animal trainers.
To qualify for an O-1A visa, the artist must show that they have been nominated for or received a significant national or international award, such as an Academy Award, Grammy, Director’s Guild Award, or perhaps a Guggenheim Art Award or the Praemium Imperiale. Otherwise, the artist may document at least three of the following:
Careful attention must be given to the exact language of each requirement to make sure it is met. For example, simply showing a high salary is insufficient without supporting evidence of other salaries in the field. Likewise, evidence of a lead or starring role in a performance must be accompanied by evidence of the distinguished performance or venue itself. This is how O-1 filings become voluminous, especially if large portions of documents must be translated to English (an added cost most individuals don’t consider beforehand). If the requirements do not readily fit an endeavor but an individual feels they are still extraordinary, they may submit comparable evidence. But in doing so, the individual must also explain why the individual requirements are not applicable to their field.
To be eligible for the O-1B, one must demonstrate extraordinary achievement evidenced by a degree of skill and recognition significantly above that ordinarily encountered. This individual must be recognized as outstanding, notable or leading in the motion picture and/or television field. These individuals may show the nomination or receipt of a major award, like an Emmy or Academy Award, or may demonstrate at least three of the requirements listed above for artists.
To apply for either the O-1A or O-1B, U.S. employer or agent must file an I-129 petition with USCIS to establish eligibility. In addition to showing the artist’s extraordinary ability, all petitions must include a detailed explanation of the work to be done, an itinerary of events, and an employment contract. One unique feature of all O and P visas is the consultation requirement, a written advisory opinion from an appropriate labor union.
Once USCIS approves the petition, the artist or actor will apply for the O-1 visa at a U.S. consulate overseas. The visa can be granted for a maximum of three years and can be extended. However, the length of validity is usually determined by the particular event or need that precipitated the O-1 application. Spouses and minor children are eligible for the O-3 visa. They may study but are not eligible to work in the U.S.
Support personnel may be eligible for the O-2 visa if they can establish that their assistance is an integral or essential part of the O-1 visa holder’s work or performance. The evidence should establish their current essentiality, critical skills, and experience, as well as their experience in supporting the O-1 principal. In the case of a specific motion picture or television production, the evidence should establish that significant production has already taken place outside the U.S. and the continuing participation of the personnel is essential to the successful completion of the production.