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What is the USA temporary artist O1 visa?

The O visa is an excellent flexible visa. Since we received ours it is becoming more and more sought after. It is not a lottery but is awarded to those that fulfill certain criteria. Read about the criteria [here. The O visa is not just for artists but people working in the sciences, education, business, or athletics can apply for this visa too. We concentrate on the artist O1-B Visa version in these guides. If you are in any other category than the arts you should apply for the O1-A and not the O1-B Visa – please click here for the O1-A version.

The O1-B is further broken down into ARTS Visa and MPTV Visa (Motion Picture Television) (More Below!)

Artists are told that the USA artist visa is IMPOSSIBLE to get, if that’s the case then how are there so many artists working in America on these visas already? We came to the USA on these visas and so too have many more that have used our guides! Stop listening to people that haven’t even tried and start listening to those that have actually succeeded and are happily working in the US. 

The artists that have used our guides: actors, filmmakers, opera singers, fashion designers, conductors, painters, models, singer-songwriters, tattoo artists, a pantomime writer, a DJ, and, a cruise ship pianist!

Taking 2019 as an example of pre-COVID figures there were 163,342 O-1 Visas approved by the USCIS. For the stats relating to your country click here.

If you are a working artist there is a good chance that you may qualify.

The artist O1 visa basics:

  • It is a non-immigrant visa allowing you come and go from the USA as you please.
  • A sponsor is required. You may only work for that sponsor. (More below and here)
  • Although technically not a freelance work visa having a ‘blanket visa’ can allow freedoms.
  • Allows artists to live and work in America for up to 3 years.
  • Job offer/s are required.
  • Must continue working in the area of your extraordinary achievement in the US.
  • You are permitted to use the Premium Processing service. (Decision within 15 days)
  • You can bring your spouse and children.
  • You can bring a support person. (Manager/agent/trainer/makeup artist/writer etc)
  • All artists can apply
  • Negative: Actors – WARNING not all studios will hire O visa holding actors. (More below and here)
  • You must prove you are extraordinary by fulfilling 3 of these criteria. (More below)
  • Can easily be ‘Amended’ or ‘Extended’.
  • An O-1 Visa is not necessary before applying for the EB-1 Greencard but is a great visa to determine if you enjoy living and working in the USA.
  • An attorney is not necessary to file.
  • Should have a residence in a foreign country which you have no intention of abandoning.
  • MORE below

O-1B

This US artist visa, known as the O-1B nonimmigrant visa, is for the individual who possesses extraordinary ability in the arts, education, (Arts) or who has a demonstrated record of extraordinary achievement in the motion picture or television industry (MPTV) and has been recognized nationally or internationally for those achievements.

The maximum amount of time allowed in the O-1 visa initial period of stay is 3 years. You can apply for extensions under the same sponsor of up to 1 year per extension

To judge that you are extraordinary the USCIS have devised a list of criteria for your to submit under. You should qualify in 3 criteria – check them out here [requirements.

The USCIS also require ‘consultation letters’ or ‘no objection’ letters – these must come from an affiliated U.S. peer group, labor, and/or management organization. If there is no such group related to your particular field, don’t panic, this letter can include a person or persons with expertise in your field. Arts applicants require ONE letter and MPTV applicants require TWO – eg. an ARTS O-1B Music Librarian applicant might get ONE consultation letter from the American Federation of Musicians (AFM) and an MPTV O1-B actor TWO – a letter from Screen Actors Guild/American Federation of Television Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) and from perhaps the American Guild of Musical Artists (AGMA).

As with most employment-based visas, a Sponsor is required.

Sponsor

Choosing the right sponsor is imperative. The O visa is a “sponsored” visa, meaning you need a representative in the USA eg. a manager, agent or company to sponsor you. You can change your sponsor if you need to at any time. A change of sponsor application can afford you up to another 3 years. You can also have several O visas at the same time. Concurrent visas can be with different sponsors. You are only permitted to work for your sponsor, hence why a manager or agent is best  – as they can loan you out to other employers. This is known as a ‘blanket visa’.

The USCIS allow petitioners to be a U.S. employer, a U.S. agent, or a foreign employer (through a U.S. agent). This relationship should be contracted and your sponsor will need to sign all submitted paperwork. While you may not “self-petition” on the O-1, a separate legal entity owned by you may be eligible to file a petition on your behalf (also consider the EB-1 extraordinary ability immigrant visa).

If you are sponsored by a company YOU MAY ONLY LEGALLY WORK FOR THEM. This can be known as a Single Project O-1 Visa. Many artists use this visa type for each individual project. If you are applying for this type an Itinerary is not necessary.

Many artists use the single Project O-1 visa in order to work in the USA to see if it is somewhere they would be happy to work and live before committing to a 3 year blanket O visa or upgrading to the EB-1 green card. For example, you could be hired by Nickelodeon production on a single show, while working there you could meet a manager that would like to work with you. You can then submit a separate visa application with that manager as your sponsor or apply for a ‘Change of Sponsor’. This will allow you to work with many employers.

Have a read of our Sponsor information here.

Time Allowed

To ensure you have the maximum time possible on your visa, you will supply work contract/s across a 3 year span. You must show proof of upcoming US work for a legitimate company/companies within your field. If you intend to work in more than one company these contracts become your ‘Itinerary’.

Please 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. This may also be changed from the approved time amount by Custom and Border Patrol. Ensure you check the end date given by your gate officer when entering the USA. You should have your evidence with you to show your contract dates and itinerary.

An ‘extension of stay’ with the same Sponsor may be applied for in increments of up to one year thereafter.

Also, if you end up not working as often as you planned in the US and have booked a gig abroad you can enter and exit the USA as often as you wish.

Costs of applying O-1 – Temporary Artist Visa

Here are the costs broken down:

  • USCIS Form I-129:  $460
  • Union Consultation Letter approx $250 – $500
  • US Embassy Consular Processing $190 +
  • Print & Postage $150
  • Total  =  $1,050 – $1,300 approx

Premium Processing:  $2,500* (not necessary)
If you decided to hire an Attorney their fee can be from $5,000 to $8,000 approx.

Processing Times

Processing times can vary. All the material in our guide is available to you within seconds of purchase. The documents will be there for you for as long as you need them 24/7/365 from anywhere you have internet access. To go through all the material in our guide will take approximately 3 days. The time for gathering evidence to filing your application is up to you, generally we observe it takes about 12 days. You can pay for Premium Processing to have your answer within 15 days – we have found that most applicants receive a response within 3 days. Only consider Premium Processing if you believe your case to be strong. Through ordinary processing it can take as long as 3 months even 4 months! Check here for Processing Times. If it has been almost 4 months and you are still waiting for a reply from USCIS you can follow up with them. From approval it can take a week to organize your consulate/embassy meeting and another week for your passport to arrive with your visa inserted. These times are general approximations post-Covid.

If I get this visa can I work anywhere in the US?

Yes! This is a visa that is valid for all of the USA as long as you are working within your field. If this is your intention it is best that you are sponsored by an agent or a manager. You may add additional performances or engagements during the your valid O visa stay without filing an amended petition to the USCIS, as long as they are in the same O-1 caliber.

If it is your intention to work in several areas you will be required to provide an ‘Itinerary’ along with your application.

Can I do any work?

The occupation listed on the O visa can be restrictive. You are only legally permitted to accept work under the occupation you choose on your form. This is incredibly important especially if you are working in film. An actor was auditioning in the US for film and TV roles. She booked TV role and filmed it with CBS studios. The studio attorneys noticed that her visa under ‘occupation’ had ‘Theater Actor’ meaning that she could not legally 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 practically in the same field, however, the USCIS treats any field related to Motion Pictures Television applications with stricter scrutiny, in fact, they even ask for a second union/peer consultation letter. Read our Warning here.

Examine that the occupation you choose fully describes your income streams eg. if you apply only as a film director you may not accept work as a theater director or if you get work sometimes as an editor this is not allowed under this restrictive visa so choose a suitable occupation number that encompasses how you usually work. If you are an actor that also works commercially make sure you list modeling work. It is wise in your petition letter to have examples of past employments throughout your field so as to not be restricted. eg You should cover all bases. You should have evidence in your petition letter that you worked in that field before and include a deal memo for an upcoming job in that field eg theater actor, film actor AND voice over artist have examples in all 3 of past and future work.

Can I bring my family?

The other major benefit of this visa is you can bring your spouse and children. They will come to the US on the restrictive O-3. Spouse and children may study but may not work on this status.

This visa allows allows you to apply to bring a support person on an O-2 – they may only work for you on this status. (Manager/agent/trainer/makeup artist/translator).

Who can apply?

This US visa for film professionals, make-up artists, musicians, tattoo artists, animators, fine artists, singers, circus performers, YouTubers, VFX, stunts, chefs etc. 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 test the American market out before committing to the EB-1 permanent green card (remember it is not necessary for you to have an O-1 before applying for the EB-1). 

The USCIS define applicants for this visa as: fine arts, visual arts, culinary arts, performing arts also aliens engaged in the field of arts include not only the principal creators and performers but other essential persons such as, but not limited to, 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.

Actor Warning!

The only artist group having issues with this visa are Actors – we have not come across this issue for other O1 visa holders. We want you to be fully aware of the restrictions/issues relating to the O-1B upfront. We have the Actor O-1 visa warning explained more here. We have not come across this issue for any other O1 visa holders. The USCIS treats any field related to Motion Pictures Television applications with stricter scrutiny, in fact, they even ask for a second union/peer consultation letter.

Can I really do this application myself.

Of course! Click here for our guide information and here for a break down of [How to Apply for the US O-1B Artist Visa. Use of an immigration attorney is optional. Using an attorney is not a requirement of the USCIS. You are permitted to self file. The USCIS forms are free and available on their website, here and here. Our guide will assist you in preparing and submitting your case for self-filing or filing with an attorney. If you don’t feel confident in your abilities we recommend hiring an experienced attorney. We are artists and not attorneys when we applied we were torn as to what was the better option – we had friends who applied with attorneys and been denied, others who had been approved, but never heard of anyone self-filing! There is a lot of work involved in the application, most of which you have to do on your own anyway. What an attorney offers you is peace of mind. They have done it all before many times and they can do it for you, taking much of the stress and pressure off your hands. Of course, they charge a fee for this service, which may or may not be a factor in deciding how you proceed.
There’s no guarantee either way, the deciding factor is your career, not who prepared your application. Our guide can help you to present your career, showing it in its best light and highlighting its merits – whether that is in how best to word your recommendation letters or just in choosing the evidence to present to your attorney so they can best word your petition letter. We have gathered all the information, heard from all the experts, seen all the arguments for and against every angle, dug through forums and compiled a comprehensive guide on how the USCIS criteria apply to artists and entertainers. Check it out here.

Is the EB-1 Green Card application the same as the O-1 Visa?

No. The O-1 and EB-1 criteria are similar but there are discrepancies in what is known as the ‘plain text interpretation’. It is very important that you understand the current interpretations of the criteria for each visa to avoid denial or an RFE (Request for Evidence).

There is a higher standard of extraordinary ability/achievement necessary for approval of an EB-1 green card application than an O-1.

The O-1 application does requires more documents to be included in the application: you must supply a sponsor contract, itinerary, consultations etc. These visas should be treated as completely separate applications. There may be more documents in an O visa application but an EB-1 application is adjudicated with higher level of scrutiny.

We hope that this has been a thorough explanation of the visa. If we have missed your question check out here.

Check out our guides We built our guides from our experiences and the experiences of our colleagues and from a wish for other actors to not suffer the same frustrations many have had. Buy the O1 visa guide or if you see going for the Greencard in your future – get our COMBO guides.

Can an unknown actor, musician, filmmaker, entertainer get an O-1 visa?

Yes. You don’t need to be “famous” to get the O-1 or the EB-1. Out of the USCIS given criteria you only need to fulfill 3. Fame is not one of them.

I received my positive consultation letter from SAG-AFTRA does that automatically get me into the union?

No. As part of your O1 application process you need to obtain consultation letters, in these letters it states that they have looked at your case file and have ‘no objection’ to you joining the union. You must still follow each unions steps to join including pay their initiation fee. This also includes SAG-AFTRA. Check out SAG-AFTRA here on steps to join. To get the ‘no objection’ letter you need to contact your appropriate union. Here an example of what SAG-AFTRA ask for. Check here for the USCIS official list.

I just got my O-1!! Can I apply straight away for my EB-1?

Yes. You can apply right away and go the Adjustment of Status route – more on this in our EB1 Greencard guide. Read Process here. To get to O visa you must show that you have a home that you do not wish to abandon in a foreign country. Even though the O visa is a visa that permits immigrant intent.

Do I need to have an O-1 visa before applying for the EB-1 green card?

No. You can apply for the EB1-EA Green Card from your home country without previous O-1 visas.

Will having had O visas help with my EB-1 green card application?

No. The USCIS state that having had previous visas does not have any bearing on your EB-1 application.

I’m a musician can I play free gigs in USA?

Every year musicians and bands are deported. Read this unfortunate story from SXSW and this article.

You need a work visa even if coming over to play for free. If you arrive at Custom and Border Patrol with your guitar you will be grilled. If they find business cards, other promotional material and/or a list of your gigs you will be deemed not coming to the USA for ‘Vacation’ but rather work. You have committed fraud.

As far as we are concerned if you intend to keep a professional career you must be above board in all dealings and that includes visas. It doesn’t need to cost thousands.

If I am playing a music festival do I still need a visa?

Yes. As above – if you are performing physically on US soil, even if it is a showcase, you should have a visa to be authorized to play. If you are coming into the USA with your instrument/press material and as many of these are high profile events they will find out and you will be deported. Check out Damien McFlys experience. This can have an adverse effect on your future applications. Check 21 Savage arrest. Even Justin Bieber faced deportation what makes you think you will get away with breaking the law. Please don’t be foolish. This is your career.

Can I audition in USA for pilot season without a visa?

Check out this article here on advice for actors coming to USA to audition and how you can prepare your case. Our guide obviously delves deeper but this should start you in the right direction.

I have been cast in a role on a film shooting in the US do I still need a visa, even if it’s for only 1 day?

Yes. If you are physically working on US soil, even if a foreign company is paying you, you must have a visa to be authorized to work in the USA. If it is work on an unpaid short – then you should perhaps investigate the B visa. If you lie and say you have a visa it could get the production company in trouble.

If I get denied my O-1 Visa or my EB-1 is that it, can I never apply again?

You can apply as many times as you need. The USCIS look at your case objectively not emotively as us applicants do. Many applicants buy our guides after they receive a denial. Usually they discover that their cases were weak, using our guides they reframe their achievements into stronger arguments and submit again with success. Read our most common reasons for denial here.

How do I know if I am extraordinary? 

International artists applying for these visas must prove in their petition letter, backed up with supporting evidence, that they are extraordinary, have sustained acclaim and have risen to the top of their field. The USCIS break down the criteria on how they measure extraordinary ability and achievement. If you can prove 3 of their criteria you are eligible. We investigate each criterion in our guide so you can relate your career to them and make an educated decision on if you qualify. If you don’t believe you are ready yet the advice in our guide will help you fashion your career into being extraordinary. [Click here to read our analysis of the requirements for the O-1 Arts and O-1 MPTV. Click here to read our analysis of the Greencard EB-1 extraordinary ability criteria.

Do I need to be in the USA to file for the O1 visa?

No, you can apply from your home country. You will go through the process called Consular Processing.

I am currently in the USA can I file for the O1 visa?

Yes, you can apply from your within the USA. You are still required to go through Consular Processing to receive your visa in your passport. If you already have an O visa and time is running out you must be in the US to file an O extension.

I have an O1 visa for stage acting how can I work in film?

You will need to apply for an ‘Amended petition‘. This is where you update the USCIS with a request to change the terms of your current visa. You will need to submit a new itinerary including film deal memos as well as two film oriented/actor union/peer group advisory consultations (eg. SAG-AFTRA & AMPTP). As the MPTV Arts O-1 now calls for artists of extraordinary achievement you will also need to provide evidence of previous film work of renown.