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The O-1 Visa: Working in the U.S. as an Individual Involved in the Arts and Entertainment Industry

by | Apr 19, 2013 | 0 comments


There is no question that the United States is one of the hottest markets for individuals looking to establish a successful career in the entertainment industry and the arts in general.  Whether you are an actor, photographer, singer, writer or artists of any sort, the United States can provide you with opportunities that exist nowhere else in the world.  For this reason, the U.S. is one of the most sought out destinations for artists of all types.

Unfortunately, for those of us who are not United States citizens, entering the U.S. to work as an artist is not as simple as accepting an employment offer.  Artists who are not U.S. citizens, or permanent residents, must first obtain an employment visa before they can enter the U.S. to work. This article provides an overview of the O1 visa, a form of work authorization that caters to qualifying artists who wish to take their talent to the United States.

A. Persons of Extraordinary Ability

The O1 visa is available for persons of documented extraordinary ability in the sciences, arts, education, business, or athletics.  Despite the relatively dynamic nature of the O1 visa, in this article our focus will be on how the O1 visa applies to those within the arts.

 B. General Requirements Applicable to All Art Related O1 Cases

Entering the U.S. to Perform in an Event

To qualify for an O1 visa, you must be entering the U.S. to work or perform in an event or series of events.  Generally speaking, what constitutes an “event” is fairly broad by O1 standards, and includes activities such as acting in a TV show, commercial or theatrical production, performing at a concert, book readings, and so forth.

Employment through an Agency

Many artists enter the U.S. under an arrangement where they are employed by an agency rather than the organization responsible for the production or event.  Such an arrangement is common and perfectly permissible.  In instances where the artist is employed by an agency, he or she is still eligible for an O1 as long as the agency can provide an itinerary of events the artists will be attending while in the United States.

Advisory Opinion

To obtain an O1 visa, you will need to get a written advisory opinion.  If you are entering the U.S. to perform in the motion picture or television industry, you will need to obtain separate opinions from both a labor and a management organization with expertise in your field of endeavor.  If you are entering the U.S. to work or perform in any other area of art, you must provide an opinion from a peer group (including labor organizations) or from a person designated by the group with expertise in your area.

Timeline for Filing O1 Petition

The O1 petition may not be filed more than six months prior to the date you will start your employment.

Support Staff

Essential support personnel of O1 visa holders, such as makeup artists for example, may to enter the U.S. to continue their duties for the artist on what is referred to as an O2 visa.  O2 workers must be an integral part of the event and have critical skills, as well as experience with the O1 work, that are not general in nature and cannot be performed by a U.S. worker.  Also, in the case of motion picture or television production, there must be a preexisting long standing working relationship between the O2 applicant and the O1 worker.

C. Extraordinary Ability in the Television and Movie Industry

To qualify for an O1 visa as an individual entering the U.S. to work in the television or motion picture industry, you must demonstrate a very high level of accomplishment evidenced by a degree of skill and recognition significantly above that ordinarily encountered.

To meet the “high level of accomplishment” standard, you must provide evidence that you have 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 three of the following:

1. Performed or 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;

2. Achieved national or international recognition for achievements, as shown by critical reviews or other published materials by or about the individual in major newspapers, trade journals, magazines, or other publications;

3. 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;

4. Received significant recognition for achievements from organizations, critics, government agencies or other recognized experts in the field in which the alien is engaged, with the testimonials clearly indicating the author’s authority, expertise and knowledge of the alien’s achievements; and

5. A high salary or other substantial remuneration for services in relation to others in the field, as shown by contracts or other reliable evidence.

 D. Extraordinary Ability in Artistic Endeavors Other than Television and Motion Pictures

To qualify for an O1 visa as an individual entering the U.S. to engage in an artistic endeavor other than television or motion pictures, such as theatrical productions, visual arts, music and so forth, you must demonstrate   “distinction”. Distinction means a high level of achievement in the field of arts evidenced by a degree of skill and recognition substantially above that ordinarily encountered.

The same evidence that is required to demonstrate a “high level of accomplishment”, as required with television and motion picture cases, is also required to show distinction.  That is, you must provide evidence that you received a significant national or international award or provide evidence from at least three of the five categories listed above.  However, unlike with the “high level of accomplishment” standard, used in television and motion picture cases, if you are not able to provide evidence from at least three of the above five categories, you may provide other comparable evidence in the alternative.  Thus, in effect, the “distinction” requirement is a considerably lower standard than the “high level of accomplishment” criteria.


The O1 is the ideal visa for those involved in the arts who wish to obtain employment in the United States.  By obtaining an O1 visa, actors, writers, singers, dancers and artists of all types can further their career by taking their talents to the United States.  If you are interested in obtaining an O1 visa so that you can work in the U.S., feel free to contact us today so that we can connect you with a U.S. immigration attorney who has experience with O1 cases.


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