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ACTORS: The O1 US Artist Visa is not all it seems. (WARNING!)

We started out on our greencard journeys when we discovered that many of the US studios; ABC, Sony, NBC Universal etc. did not accept our O-1 visa. This has been the case since 2009 and STILL actors arrive in Los Angeles and New York on O visas that are restrictive. Most of these actors could have qualified for the EB-1 Greencard.  

We made it our mission to ensure actors were made aware of these issues so please pass this article on to actors you know that are considering the move.

If you were duped into an O visa and now need to apply for the EB-1 – read US O-1 Visa to EB1 Green Card

We have not come across this issue for other O1 visa holders.

Studios will not hire O-1 Visa holders

There are restrictions on some O-1B actors which are imposed not by the USCIS but within the Motion Picture and TV industries. These issues can be avoided – we are telling you so you are aware of these before applying. Many actors are not and only find out when they arrive.

The Department of Justice states that no persons cleared for work by the USCIS should be discriminated against due to their non-immigrant status, yet difficulties remain.

O-1 Actors (with rare exception) are barred from hire by NBCUniversal, Sony, ABC Disney, and Warner Bros, thus excluding them from a large number of castings.

There is a solution to this issue: If an employer that doesn’t accept blanket visas wishes to hire you, they can choose to submit an application for another O-1B for you with them listed as sponsor. As you can have several O visas running concurrently and you already have a pre-written petition ready to go, this process using the USCIS Premium Processing service can mean you will have a “Project Specific O-1 visa” within 15 days. The in house legal team at the studio will sort this out for you.

Perhaps you are to be hired full time by a production company – you have a 3 picture deal – consider the CHANGE OF SPONSOR option. 

**Storytime: This all came about when an NBC TV show cast a British actress on a show. After the week shoot the legal team discovered her sponsor was a theater company out of Hawaii. This made her work with them, a wholly different employer and the theater company not in business as an agency or manager, illegal. They had to reshoot the week of TV at the cost of millions.

Ensure you choose your sponsor carefully – a manager/agent is best, not a company, if you need a blanket visa.

Please note: CBS and Fox Studios do accept the O-1 visa as long as the actor presents their petition in advance and it clearly lists them as a “Screen Actor” or “MPTV”

This is an important element for all applicants to note – you will be limited to working within the category of artist you list on your petition – “Stage Actors” or “O-1 Arts” cannot work as “Screen Actors” or “MPTV”  – it is imperative that you list all job titles under which you intend to work on your application.

**Storytime: Another British actor, they were auditioning in the US for film and TV roles on an O-1. She booked a Daytime TV role and arrived at CBS studios to be told at security that she needed to call Casting. The attorneys had noticed that her visa under ‘occupation’ listed ‘Theater Actor’ meaning that she was not permitted to work as a ‘Screen Actor’ in the US.

It is taken very seriously. In fact this is why there has been so many issues with the O Visa. This may seem ridiculous – they are in the same field, however, the USCIS treats any field related to Motion Pictures Television applications with more scrutiny, in fact they even ask for a second union/peer consultation letter.

American Equity Problem

Another issue facing O-1 Actors that are coming to the US as “Stage Actor” on an O-1 Arts is that they are not permitted to join Actors’ Equity Association, meaning they cannot perform in union-contracted theater productions unless ‘grandfathered’ in. This would mean getting cast in an Off-Broadway show that moves up into a union house on union pay. The American Guild of Musical Artists (AGMA), American Guild of Variety Artists (AGVA), Guild of Italian American Actors and Screen Actors Guild – American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) have no issues with artist on O-1 visas. The USCIS requires that O-1 visas applicants provide a consultation letter of no objection from a union or peer group in your field we ask that if you approach the above unions and avoid American Equity if possible.

Processing speed is a problem

Please note that another issue for O-1 Actors – many roles that you may be cast in have a quick turnaround and the approval time for the O visa can be long – current processing times (See I-129 Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker). If you have a strong O-1 case consider using the USCIS Premium Processing service. It is an extra fee but if you are guaranteed to have an answer within 15 days. (In our experience most are approved in 1-2 days.)

Consular denial

There are cases of O-1 actors being turned down at their US consulate and embassy interview. We believe this is because most actors are not fully aware of their application and not in a position to argue their case. We show you how in our guides. In essence the US Consular Officer will ask you “What makes you extraordinary? I’ve never heard of you.” Actors should be prepared for these questions and not perturbed by them.

Why apply for the O-1?

The O-1B is an excellent temporary visa to allow you live and work in the United States and is ideal for the creative artist who wants to trial working in the USA before committing to the EB-1 permanent green card. Concentrate on working with the studios that hire O-1B visas and you will have plenty of work. Use the O-1 as a stepping stone to the EB-1, it is a solid step in the right direction and establishes you in the US ahead of your EB-1 application although IT IS NOT NECESSARY TO HAVE AN O-1B visa BEFORE APPLYING FOR THE EB-1.

If your intention is to create your own work in the US then the O-1B is ideal. The O-1B can be used to have the time necessary in the US to meet with potential employers and establish your work there.

The O-1B can be used to have the time necessary in the US to meet with potential employers and get your work known – and if an employer that doesn’t accept blanket visas wishes to hire you, they can choose to submit an application for another O-1B for you with them listed as sponsor – the possibilities are endless!

We built these guides from our experiences and the experiences of our colleagues and we don’t wish for other actors to suffer the same fate. Thankfully independent films and commercials rarely require proof of status, so are accessible to all O-1B actors. The Department of Justice states that no persons cleared for work by the USCIS should be discriminated against due to their non-immigrant status, yet difficulties remain.

If you encounter any other issues we have left out let us know – it is important that artists are aware. support@greencard.guide

Is it still worth it getting the O-1 visa as an actor?

Yes. Just understand the issues. Concentrate on working with the studios that will take the blanket O visa. Use the opportunity to concentrate on working on building your contacts and career to apply for the EB-1.

How to Apply

Our guides focus on:
O-1 Extraordinary Achievement in Motion Picture or Television Industry (commonly referred to as O-1B (MPTV))
and the
O-1 Extraordinary Ability in Arts (commonly referred to as O-1B (Arts))

Check them out here.

Our comprehensive step-by-step O-1 3 Year Artist Visa Guide has examples of possible evidentiary items in all criteria, to assist you in building your petition letter to DIY your artist visa or to focus and speed your application if working with an immigration attorney. We give you all your need to file an Original Application and when you need it how to file a visa Extension, Amended visa and how to Change your Sponsor.

If you are considering the EB-1 check out our ultimate guide here.

Successfully helping artists since 2015

Our guides are filled with experiences of artists just like you. We have decoded the legalese and give you the templates used by the USCIS and attorneys to build cases. We offer actionable steps for you to take right now in building your application organically. We deep dive into what the USCIS really want from you and show you how to give it to them.