US artist visa requirements, costs & application process
For professional artists and performers travelling to the United States for paid engagements, among the long list of things to organize will be your US artist visa.
International artists face notable scrutiny from US immigration authorities, both with visa applications and on arrival at the US border. You cannot generally travel to the US visa-free or under ESTA for the purposes of paid employment, such as a professional performance. Border officials have powers to refuse entry if they are not satisfied that your intended activities comply with your immigration permission.
Having the right permission in place before you travel will help avoid visa issues or even entry refusal, impacting your ability to fulfil professional engagements in the US.
Which Artist Visa USA?
The type of visa you need to apply for will depend on a number of factors and you are advised to take early advice on your options to ensure you proceed with the best option for your needs and that you have enough time for the application to be processed before travelling.
There are two main types of US artist visas for industry professionals; we take a brief look at what these are, who is eligible and how you apply.
There are two main types of visa for artists looking to work in the United States in a professional capacity, namely:
- O-1B visa
- P-1B visa
- B-1 visa
The O-1B visa is a nonimmigrant work visa for individuals possessing extraordinary ability in the arts, or extraordinary achievements in the motion picture or television industry and have been recognised nationally or internationally for those achievements, and are coming to the United States to continue work in their particular field.
The P-1B visa is a nonimmigrant visa for individuals coming to the United States to perform as a member of an entertainment group that has been recognized internationally as outstanding in the discipline for a sustained and substantial period of time.
What are the differences between the US artist visas?
Both are temporary visas, with any permission granted to enter the United States time restricted, typically in line with the period required to carry out the performances.
While both visas are temporary, the O visa tends to be issued for a longer period and it does permit ‘dual intent’. This means it can offer the holder a path to a US Green Card. The P visa however requires holders to show they are maintaining residence outside the US and will leave the US prior at the end of their permitted stay.
Both categories require sponsorship but the O visa is limited to an individual applicant, whereas the P visa applies to a group.
The eligibility requirements for the O visa are higher than those for the P – which only requires international relating to one event, but the O visa is open to a much broader category of applicant and professional fields.
Finally, O visa holders can be accompanied by their spouse and children under the O-3 visa.
What artists need to know about the O-1B visa
O-1B visa eligibility requirements
To be eligible for an O-1B visa you must satisfy the following criteria:
- You have extraordinary ability or achievements in your particular field
- You are coming to the USA to continue work in this field
- You have a US work sponsor who will file a petition with US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) on your behalf.
Extraordinary ability in the field of arts means distinction. Distinction means a high level of achievement evidenced by a degree of skill and recognition substantially above that ordinarily encountered, ie; to the extent that a person described as prominent is renowned, leading, or well-known in the field of arts.
To qualify for an O-1B visa in the motion picture or television industry, you must demonstrate extraordinary achievement evidenced by a degree of skill and recognition significantly above that ordinarily encountered, ie; to the extent that you are recognised as outstanding, notable or leading in that industry.
At first blush, the threshold for an O-1B visa may seem unattainably high, but we have substantial experience of evidencing to the US authorities that applicants satisfy the threshold.
How to apply for the O-1 visa
As previously indicated, the O-1B visa is a petition-based visa where you will need a sponsor based in the United States to file a petition with USCIS on your behalf. Typically, this will mean you will have to find a U.S. based agent or production company who will agree to sponsor you.
Having identified a U.S. sponsor, they will need to file Form I-129 with USCIS prior to you submitting your O-1B visa application. You can only file your visa application once a petition has been approved.
In support of the petition you will need to provide various documents, not least in proving the ‘extraordinary ability or achievements’ requirement. You will also need various letters of recommendation and a written consultation letter from two unions in your field of work.
Once your petition has been approved you will then need to file online Form DS-160 and attend an interview with your local U.S. Embassy or Consulate.
If granted, an O-1B visa will be for a period of up to three years, with the option of renewing in twelve month increments.
What artists need to know about the P-1B visa
P-1B visa eligibility requirements
To be eligible for a P-1B visa you must satisfy the following criteria:
- At least 75% of the members of your group must have had a substantial and sustained relationship with the group for at least one year
- You are coming to the USA to perform as a member of that group, whereby individual entertainers not performing as part of a group are not eligible for this visa classification
- You must be coming to the USA to participate in a competition or a specific entertainment function
- You have a U.S. work sponsor who will file a petition with USCIS on your behalf.
Your entertainment group must be internationally recognised, having a high level of achievement in a field evidenced by a degree of skill and recognition substantially above that ordinarily encountered.
The reputation of the group, rather than the individual achievements of its members or the acclaim of a particular production, is absolutely essential here.
There are, however, special provisions for certain types of entertainment groups, namely circus performers and essential circus personnel. These are exempt from both the one-year and the internationally recognised requirement, although the applicant(s) must be coming to join a nationally recognised circus.
Further, certain nationally known entertainment groups may have the internationally recognised requirement waived if they can establish they have been recognised nationally as outstanding in its discipline for a sustained amount of time in consideration of special circumstances.
How to apply for the P-1B visa
As with the O-1B visa, the P-1B is also petition-based. As such, you will again need a US sponsor to file a petition with USCIS on your behalf. Equally, this petition must be approved before you can submit your online visa application.
In support of the petition you will need to provide various documents, not least in proving that you are a member of an entertainment group ‘that has been recognized internationally as outstanding in the discipline for a sustained and substantial period of time’.
Subject to limited exceptions, you will again need a written consultation letter from an appropriate labor organisation.
Once your petition has been approved you will need to file online Form DS-160 and attend an interview with your U.S. Embassy or Consulate.
If granted, a P-1B visa will be for the time needed to complete the performance, not to exceed one year, with the option of renewing in increments of up to one year in order to continue or complete the performance in question.
B-1 visa for short term travel
If your trip to the US will be short term, you may consider the B-1 business visitor visa. The application process is less onerous and costly than under the O or P categories, but the list of permissible activities is limited. Only the following would generally be allowable under the B-1 visa:
- To participate only in a cultural program sponsored by the sending country, where the individual will be performing before a nonpaying audience, and all of their expenses will be paid by the sending government.
- To participate in a competition for which there is no remuneration other than a prize (monetary or otherwise) and expenses.
- To utilize music recording facilities for recording purposes only, and the recording will be distributed and sold only outside the United States, and no public performances will be given.
- To paint, sculpt, etc., and the individual is not under contract with a US employer, and does not intend to regularly sell such work in the US.
B-1 visa holders cannot generally receive a salary from a US source for any activities performed in the US during their B-1 period. Expenses or reimbursements may be allowable where they result from temporary stay, but strict rules apply. For example, this amount cannot exceed the actual reasonable expenses incurred in traveling to and from the event, together with living expenses they could reasonably be expected to incur.
NNU Immigration are specialist US immigration attorneys with particular expertise in the media and entertainment industry.
We help international talent, artists, performers, their management, key personnel and entourage with all aspects of their US visa applications, with guidance in light of the latest travel and entry restrictions and immigration options.
If you have a question about your US visa options, please contact us for advice.
This article does not constitute direct legal advice and is for informational purposes only.