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Steps to apply for the US Artist Visa – Ultimate Guide

There are many parts to the O-1 Visa. It’s best to keep separate folders to organize your paperwork.

  1. USCIS criteria – understand what qualifies in each requirement
  2. Print and copy evidence needed for each criteria
  3. Decide the criteria you believe you qualify in (at least 3)
  4. Focus on building more in those chosen criteria
  5. Approach peers for Recommendation Letters (more below)
  6. Connect with US contacts/venues for deal memos and work contracts
  7. Consider your Petition Letter – MPTV O visa or Arts O visa
  8. Approach potential Sponsors
  9. Print Form I-129 and familiarize yourself with what is needed
  10. Almost ready to file, request your Recommendation letters tailored to bolster your criteria
  11. Build your Itinerary (if necessary)
  12. Finish your Petition Letter
  13. Get Sponsor signature on your contract and Form I-129 application form
  14. Approach US peer groups, labor organizations, and/or management organizations
  15. Organize your documents and evidence in a digestible way (index your exhibits)
  16. Submit to USCIS to be examined
  17. Celebrate your approval and organize your US Consulate/Embassy interview
  18. Interview at the Consulate/Embassy
  19. Receive your returned visa stamped passport and book flight to USA
  20. Interview at Custom Border Patrol when entering USA (I-94)
  21. Get your Social Security Number, local ID, register for city tax (if applicable) etc
  22. Continue to work in your field
  23. Get ready to apply for the EB-1

Let’s get started

1. Understand the USCIS criteria

USCIS criteria – be familiar with the criteria and the evidence needed. Being familiar with them at the very beginning opens future opportunities on how you can shape your application. It empowers you. Understanding the requirements and what fulfills them helps you determine the strength of your case.[Read the criteria here.

2. Print and copy evidence needed for each criteria

If you have a career you will be very surprised by how much evidence you already have. Each piece of evidence usually backs up more than one criteria. eg Press could potentially show ‘evidence of recognition for achievements’ AND ‘evidence of critical role’. Print out your evidence and note what criteria it backs up. Start to get organized early on by keeping folders and using tabs.

3. Decide the criteria you believe you qualify in

Deciding on the criteria that you will likely qualify in frees you to be strategic in your career by choosing/creating work to fulfill those particular criteria.

You must qualify in 3 criteria. Choose those and confirm you have enough evidence to fulfill them. If you qualify in 3 it is common that you will automatically qualify in 4 or 5. It is not necessary to submit evidence in every category. It is best to only submit the strongest criteria. You don’t wish to water down the strength of your application with a weak category.

4. Build your case

In the time you are gathering your evidence you can achieve more. It is inevitiable that you will continue to work. Focus on work opportunities that will get reviewed or can potentially feature you in their promotional material. If they don’t intend to have promo material take the initiative and create yours. If your work is to be shown at festivals be sure to attend and publicize that.

Collate the documentation on all your achievements within your field. Build this into one long resume.

Apply for competitions / festivals in your field.

Apply for Arts Council Awards / Residencies / Talent Labs / Scholarships – if project based, apply collaborating with recognizable names or artists that have won awards.

Get press about you published in print and online. Print is better. Keep and scan those articles making sure to keep the top date and newspaper name.

Raise your profile by being active in your industry, whether that is within your union or any other lobbying group. Initiate workshops for your peers with any notable artists that you have access to. Volunteer to judge at competitions or MC events.

If you do have access to a celebrity at a festival etc. be sure to get a photo with them to include.

Use this time to raise your profile. Look to your home country first by assessing artists careers that are a couple of steps ahead of your own and use their success trajectory as a blueprint for yours. Sign up to all artist profile sites with good search engine presence. During your interview stage the USCIS may google you – having a professional web presence is extremely beneficial and it might have the added bonus of getting you more work!

Connect with colleagues in neighboring countries that may hire you. Booking work across the world shows you to be of a higher level than just within your own country.

5. Recommendation Letters

Look for opportunities to develop high status connections – this will also give access to great testimonials and recommendation letters. Connect with them. Ask if they would mind writing you a letter in the future. Meet these people at festivals, conventions, industry events etc.

6. Deal memos and work contracts

As this is a work visa you must show contracts of upcoming work in the USA. To ensure you have the maximum time possible on your visa, be sure to supply work contract/s across a 3 year span. These contracts become your ‘Itinerary’. Note the amount of time allotted to your visa is entirely up to the discretion of your immigration examiner you may not be awarded the full 3 years. Your sponsor/employer may add additional performances or engagements for you during the your valid stay without filing an amended petition to the USCIS, provided that the additional performances or engagements are in the same O-1 caliber.

You can find these by connecting with US contacts/venues for deal memos and work contracts. Connect with collegues in the US ask them if they can help. Proof of Future Work can be – Deal Memos/Contracts and a paragraph in a recommendation letter or an email promise of work. It is best when it has the name of hirer, address and dates, however.

More ideas in our O1 visa application guide

7. Consider your Petition Letter – MPTV or Arts

Not every artist works in film and/or TV. Our guide gives you a sample O-1 subcategory Arts petition letter too. The difference in the applications is minimal. Arts prove extraordinary ability – allowing you to include your upcoming potential extraordinary work, the MPTV application asks that you have already proven extraordinary achievement. Plus O-1 subcategory MPTV application requires 2 consultation letters rather than the one for O Arts visas.

Consider if your petition letter will be – MPTV or Arts. Asses your career. If you are coming out to the US and intend to work in Motion Pictures/TV but can’t prove your have worked in film previously you may only qualify for the Arts O-1. If this is the case it might not be beneficial for you to apply just now – See our WARNING. Work strategically to apply in 6 months or a year.

8. Approach potential Sponsors

Now is the time to connect with representation in the US. Reach out to all you know in the industry and ask for referrals to their representation. Your sponsor is very important. They will want to represent you because they believe they can get you work. Most managers/agents in US have previously petitioned O visa artists – this process should not be new to them. Find a company/manager/agency who will be willing to represent you first, then ask if they will sponsor your application. If you are in an industry where an agent/manager is the norm this may be expected. If this is not the case for you it is permitted that you set up a company and sponsor your own application. (More in our guide)

9. Print the Form I-129

Familiarize yourself with what is needed by the USCIS. Print the forms. The I-129 is the form needed to apply (I-129 here) and the USCIS accompanying instructions are excellent (instructions here). You should gain confidence before filing having gone through this. Just ensure that you have the most up to date form when you are ready to file.

10. Now request your Recommendation Letters

Now that you are almost ready to file, circle back to the contacts you have made that agreed to give you a Recommendation Letter. Read our advice here. You will ask that they are specific to the criteria that you need bolstering. Recommendation Letters carry more weight than most artists realize. The USCIS do not want to see another wish-washy ‘Joes Schmo is extraordinary letter’ – be specific. Perhaps, if they are based in the US, they may also offer you a deal memo or promise of work.

11. Build your Itinerary (if necessary)

Not every case needs an itinerary. An itinerary is only necessary for artists that will work in different locations. eg you are a pianist working on a cruise line for the one company you should submit an itinerary. Most artists work freelance and so will submit an itinerary from the deal memos/contracts they have gathered. To benefit from the full 3 year period available on this visa it is best to build this itinerary out with ”events” for the full term.

12. Finish your Petition Letter

Now, understanding the criteria you will be applying for you should complete your petition letter by smattering the letter with quotes from your recommendation letters to bolster each category. You may be able to add in segments from the deal memos too. Spell check and confirm that dates are in US format. If you are not preparing your own application research and hire the most qualified immigration attorney you can and read the petition letter before it is filed on your behalf.

13. Get Sponsor signatures

Your sponsor should sign a contract with you for a 3 year period. They will need to sign the I-129 form and the cover letter of your petition application.

14. Consultation Letters

You will need 2 for a MPTV application and 1 for an Arts application. Approach US peer groups, labor organizations, and/or management organizations within your field for consultation support letter. (You may be required to send your petition and evidence) This is not an exhaustive list but here are some the USCIS expect to see. (Actors read Warning article.)

15. Index your Evidence

Your role now is to make the content easy for your officer to assess. Organize your documents and evidence in a digestible way. The petition letter argument should be supported with evidence. Building an Index of Exhibits is important. The USCIS require your application in US Letter page size, should be hole punched at the top of the page, tabs at the bottom. O visas are filed in duplicate meaning you will need to submit 2 copies of the petition and evidence. (More in our guide)

16. Submit to USCIS to be examined

Decide if you will use the Premium Processing service (hearing a decision in 15 days is great.) Perhaps you are happy to wait it out (Processing times). Everything is signed, collated. Check your version of form I-129 is the latest. If using an attorney you should read your petition letter before it is submitted on your behalf (check especially for US date format against your evidence, see REJECTION). Mail in your application using USPS to the correct address. PHEW! You are one of the 540,000 people that submit.

17. Celebrate your approval

Congratulations on your approval. Now you must organize your US Consulate/Embassy interview. If you received an RFE (Request for Further Evidence) respond as soon as possible even if they asked questions on everything – the statistics of people being approved on responding are worth the chance. If you are Denied you must read the letter to see why. You can straight away reapply with that new knowledge. You may even have the option of ‘withdrawing your application’ before the USCIS officially deny you. You may also have the option of rebutting their decision if you believe key evidence was missed.

18. Interview at the Consulate/Embassy

Organize your interview at your local consulate. You should bring your application with you, the evidence should be the originals so the officer can check their validity if they wish. You will have your deal memos with you to prove you will work. When you leave make sure to leave your passport with them. They will mail back your passport with your visa stapled in among the pages. US Government regulation requires that your passport be valid for a minimum of six months following the expiration of your requested visa. This means that if you’re applying for a one year visa to start in January, your passport needs to be valid through the July of the following year. There are exceptions to this rule. They will question you. Look presentable and follow their instructions.

19. Receive your returned visa stamped passport and book flight to USA

Wait for the Consulate or Embassy to mail back your passport. It is wise to not book any flights until the passport is in your hands.

20. Interview at Custom Border Patrol when entering USA and I-94

You will interview again at Custom Border Patrol when entering the USA – have your Deal Memos, Sponsor Contract in your hand luggage. Be ready to show your visa and have the address of the sponsor and where you are staying at the ready. Even though you have just stepped off a long flight please be as polite and patient as possible. They are more powerful than most give them credit for – they have the power to deny you entry into the USA and it is difficult to overrule their decision. When at the counter make a note of the last date of your visa and the last date of your I-94 to ensure they match. Mark the date in your calendar as this is the date you are legally allowed work in the US. Do this to avoid overstaying.

21. Social Security Number/Drivers Licence

Set up your Social Security Number and Driver Licence. NOTE: They will be valid only up to the last day of your I-94. The USCIS now allow you to apply for a new Social Security number on the O visa form. This speeds up the process. If you already have a number bring your passport with visa to the Social Security office. As soon as you have your Social Security number you can apply for your Driving Licence. Use your Travel Medical Insurance until you sort out your US.

22. Continue to work in your field

You must continue to work within your field. Understand the restrictions of your visa. If you are applying for a “Change of Sponsor” or an “Extension” you will need to prove you have been working.

23. Get ready to apply for the EB-1

Also if you are upgrading to the EB1 green card you should endeavor to garner as much high status work as possible. Read how you can go from O visa to EB1 here.

Our guide focuses 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.

Successfully helping artists since 2015.

O-1 Visa benefits:
Not necessary to have a visa previously
You have the choice to self-file or use an attorney
Your family can accompany you
Valid up to 3 years 
O-1 Guide includes:
EVERYTHING you need to  DIY your O-1 Artist Visa
Full Motion Picture Professional (MPTV) Petitioners Letter/Cover Letter Sample
Full Musician (Arts) Petitioners Letter/Cover Letter Sample
Several sample Recommendation Letters
Motion Picture Itinerary Sample
Musician Itinerary Sample
Production Company Sponsor Contract Sample
Agent/Manager Sponsor Contract Sample
Analyses of the Filing Forms I-129
Each criteria broken down for evidence
Sample paragraphs for each criteria
USCIS Cases and Documents
Includes Extension and Change of Sponsor
Updated with newest legislation

What’s in the O1-B GUIDE

The Basics – Guidelines – The Strategy – Planning your application.

We lay out the facts of how the O-1 Visa works, what all is involved, and when each step takes place. We give you a strong overview of the whole process so that you are ready to begin your application with a clear view of the finish line.

The O-1 – What is it exactly? Who is it for?

Do I qualify? – How to assess your chances.

To Self-File, Or Not To Self-File – Applying with or without an attorney.

Timeline – How long is the process? What to file when.

Precautions – Some things to avoid that you might not think of.
What you need from your sponsor
How to build an Itinerary

STEP ONE – The Evidence

We explain each of the criteria and how they relate to the artist, as well as interpretations that USCIS examiners won’t accept. We explain how to gather strong and compelling evidence. Here we also show you how to further prove your intent to continue working in your field as well as your benefit to the United States of America. See US government advice here.

Good Evidence – What makes compelling proof?
Bad Evidence – How to anger your examiner!
How Much? – Compelling without overloading?
Presentation – Highlighting, Numbering & Binding.
Recommendation Letters – Who to get them from and what they need to say.
Deal Memos and Letters of Intent – Prove you will continue to work.
Consultation Letters – Labor Union approvals.
The Criteria – The criteria explained and how they apply to you.
Recommendation Letters – How to maximize their efficiency.

STEP TWO – The Petition Letter

We guide you in writing your petition letter, either for a Motion Picture Professional (O-1B subcategory MPTV)  or a Musician (O-1B subcategory Arts) – if you use an attorney, this is what you will pay them to do for you. The letter is written in the third person, from your sponsor’s perspective. We deconstruct the formatting and wording of the letter to best present your case. The letter is a formula and we decode it all out for you. You might have heard of the Kazarian v. USCIS, 580 F.3d 1030, 1036 (9th Cir. 2009) Case? No? Don’t worry, we have, and we use the findings to help you build the compelling case that the examiner needs.

Make life easy for your Immigration Officer.
One criterion at a time – How to present your case and weave it together.
Choosing the phraseology that will connect you with your examiner.
Sample letter segment for each criteria referencing the evidence samples from Step 1.
Closing Statements – How to wrap up, summarize, and seal the deal. Sustained Acclaim.
We give you TWO Sample Petition Letters, written for a Motion Picture / TV Industry professional (MPTV) and a Musician (Arts).

STEP THREE – Filing the Forms

We explain the required forms.
Check out the USCIS break down here. All the forms that apply to the O-1 application are available for free here
Most applications require the Form I-129 – O-1B Visa.
We show you how to package the application correctly for your examiner.
Want to bring your significant other and kids? Perhaps your make-up artist, agent or manager? We show you how.
We also detail the Consular Processing application.

STEP FOUR – The USCIS Decision

You are approved!! Fantastic!

How to prepare for your Consular Interview – your visa may be approved but you can still be denied by your local Embassy.
Request for Further Evidence? Don’t worry, approval statistics are in your favor, you just have to follow the USCIS instructions and you will convince your examiner to approve your application.
Denial – You receive an NOID (Notice of Intent to Deny) You may be able to argue their decision.

You are approved at your interview – WOOHOO! The work is not yet done – we layout your first steps through the Port of Entry into the United States (Social Security etc.)

There’s more…
How to apply for an O1 Extension
Filing the Forms
Writing the Petition Letter
How to apply for an O1 Change of Sponsor
Filing the Forms
Necessary evidence
Writing the accompanying cover letter
Evidence Checklist – An editable spreadsheet you can use to log your evidence in each category
Progress Checklist – An editable spreadsheet you can use to plan and monitor your progress
Itinerary – How to get the full 3 years – “activities” and “events”
Sample Index of Exhibits
Sponsor Contract
Deal Memos
Recommendation Letter Samples

And even more…

BONUS MATERIAL – Because we want you to succeed!

These added value bonuses will help you to strengthen your career paper-trail. To succeed in an all paper application you need strong published evidence and we are here to help you build that portfolio.

Press Releases – How to write them and where to send them.
8 Goal Setting Techniques
Marketing Materials – How to publicize and market your work.
Your Career Online – Yes, they will google you!