US visa for content creators & influencers
For many successful content creators and online influencers, one of the perks of the job is the ability to work from almost anywhere in the world, including the USA. But before you can jump on a plane, you’ll need to make sure you have the relevant permission for your intended plans – whether you’re travelling to the US for a short business trip or planning a longer term move.
Without the correct permission, you risk running into problems with US immigration authorities, such as being detained at the border and denied entry, impacting future US immigration applications.
In this guide for content creators and online influencers, we take a look at the US visa options potentially available for you to work or carry out business-related activity while in the USA.
Do content creators & influencers need a visa for the US?
When it comes to “US visas for content creators & influencers”, whether or not you will need a visa for the United States will all depend on the purpose of your visit and how long you are planning to stay. If you are planning a short-term business trip, for example for business meetings, you could travel as a visitor either under the ESTA or a B visitor visa.
Business trips to the US
There is nothing preventing online content creators and social media influencers from visiting the US for a short business trip, provided they do not propose to undertake any paid employment or paid performances while in the US, and they only plan to stay in the US for a maximum period of up to 6 months before departing.
ESTA & visa-free business travel
If you intend to visit the US temporarily and have no plans to carry out paid-for employment, you may be eligible to travel visa-free if you are granted an ESTA.
ESTA refers to the Electronic System for Travel Authorization in the United States under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP). The VWP permits citizens of 40 countries to travel to the US without a visa for the purposes of business or tourism for up to 90 days, provided they obtain travel authorisation prior to boarding a US-bound air or sea carrier at least 72 hours before departure. Depending on the nationality of the online content creator or social media influencer, this means that they might be eligible to visit the United States to carry out certain unpaid business activities under the VWP without having to apply for a visa.
However, as with those coming to the US on a visitor visa, the same prohibition against doing paid work applies equally to those who are able to travel under an ESTA. Anyone with ESTA authorization must also still request permission to enter the United States at a US port of entry. This means that US Customs and Border Protection officials must be satisfied that any visitor is seeking to enter the country solely to engage in permissible activities for no more than 90 days. As such, if a content creator or social media influencer arrives at a US airport with the intention of undertaking work in the US, even if they only plan to do so for a period of less than 3 months, they may be refused entry.
Additionally, it is worth noting that under either an ESTA or a visitor visa, a content creator or social media influencer will not be permitted to work remotely from the US for a company or organisation overseas. Equally, the US does not currently offer any type of digital nomad visa for overseas nationals to work remotely from the US. This means that if a content creator or influencer is hoping to live in the US for prolonged periods, while sourcing online work overseas, they could be at risk of being deported. This could also result in a ban from re-entry to the United States any time in the future.
B1 visit visa for short-term business travel
Depending on your nationality, you may still need to apply for a B-1 business visitor visa in advance of travel, even if you are not coming to the US to engage in any paid work.
A B-1 visa is a nonimmigrant visa to temporarily travel to the US to engage in unpaid business activities of a commercial or professional nature, with an initial stay of up to a maximum of 6 months.
To be eligible for a B-1 visitor visa, you must be able to show that:
- the purpose of your trip is to come to the US for business of a legitimate nature
- you have sufficient funds to cover all their expenses during their stay
- you plan to stay in the US for a limited period of time only
- you have a residence outside the US, and other binding ties, ensuring you will leave the US by the end of your stay.
For the successful applicant, a B-1 visitor visa will allow a content creator or influencer to come to the US to undertake a number of permissible business activities, including negotiating contracts, consulting with business associates and/or attending meetings, conventions or conferences. It could also include speaking engagements, provided no remuneration is received from a US source, other than expenses incidental to the visit.
However, the B1 visa will not be appropriate if you are looking to stay in the US for a period of more than 6 months, or if you will be undertaking paid work, or some form of paid performance in the US, even for a short period of time. This is because the B-1 visitor visa does not allow for gainful employment or productive labour, including managing a digital business and brand from the US, or even doing online consultancy work.
US work visas for content creators & influencers
In recognition of the importance of content creators and influencers to the marketing strategies of companies and organisations worldwide, and of the growing influence and demand of these high-profile individuals, US immigration policy has begun acknowledging this type of work as a legitimate profession for authorized employment purposes. This is also now a recognised basis upon which an individual can apply for permanent residence.
There are three main work visa options for online content creators and social media influencers – the O-1B visa, I visa and the EB-1A. The O-1B visa is for those with extraordinary ability looking to temporarily live and work in the US, while the EB-1A visa is for those with extraordinary ability looking to permanently settle in the US. The following brief overview of these two visa options — often referred to as the “talent visa” and “extraordinary ability green card” — looks at what each visa allows and the eligibility criteria.
The O-1B visa is a nonimmigrant work visa for non-US nationals with an extraordinary ability in various specialist areas, including in the arts. To qualify for an O-1B visa, an applicant must demonstrate “extraordinary ability” by sustained national and/or international acclaim, and must be coming to the United States on a temporary basis to continue work in their specialised area.
This visa is a temporary but highly prestigious work visa designed only for the small percentage of people with extraordinary ability in their specialised field. However, for the elite few, this will allow the successful visa-holder to work in the United States for a period of up to 3 years. They may also have the option to extend their stay in the US in increments of up to one year at a time, with no limit on the number of extensions allowed.
Due to the growing influence and demand for online content creators and social media influencers, this profession is now deemed worthy of approval under US immigration law. However, for the successful grant of an O-1B visa, an applicant must be able to show a high level of achievement evidenced by a degree of skill and recognition substantially above that ordinarily encountered. This essentially means being able to show that they are prominent, renowned, leading or well-known in what they do on their chosen online platform.
In practice, content creators and influencers will fit the “extraordinary ability” umbrella through brand ambassadorships and having a high online following consistently earning them elevated views, likes or shares. The argument can be made that if the contribution of the individual in question is valuable and essential to the promotion of a brand or brands, when taken together with the level of online recognition that their promotional activities attract, this may be sufficient to satisfy the extraordinary ability criteria for an O-1B visa.
For those applicants who have already worked with well-known online and high street brands, provided there is clear evidence of their involvement in various marketing campaigns, it should be relatively easy to satisfy US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) of that individual’s eligibility for an O-1B visa. However, even for content creators and influencers who have only worked with smaller companies, this can still count if they have earned high levels of revenue. The applicant’s audience size, visibility and number of followers also matter, as these demonstrate earning potential and global influence.
In either scenario, however, there must be clear evidence of the work engagements that will be undertaken in the US. This is because all O-1B applicants must be coming to the US to work in a project or a number of different projects in their area of extraordinary ability.
The I visa (Foreign Information Media) allows media representatives to enter the United States to disseminate information through blogs or social media platforms. The visa regulations have been adapted to recognize those who provide content through electronic media platforms. However, unlike the O-1B, the content must be newsworthy and informational in nature and cannot be used solely for a commercial or entertainment purpose. An influencer/content creator could cover a fashion event in NYC, for example, as long as they are not promoting a brand or any particular fashion or beauty product.
Given the nature of influencers as marketers who can increase a company’s brand exposure, this distinction could be a tough sell to the US Embassy officer reviewing an application, however, if the project has a journalistic angle (ie. a piece covering fashion trends for a foreign audience), the I visa could be a consideration.
As with the O-1B visa, the EB-1A visa again includes those with extraordinary ability in the arts through sustained national or international acclaim, including as an online content creator and social media influencer. However, the EB-1A visa is an immigrant visa, also known as a green card, granting permanent residency status to the successful applicant.
As the EB-1A route provides a more permanent option for content creators and influencers interested in living and working in the United States, this route carries a much higher “extraordinary ability” standard than the O-1B visa. It is therefore important for applicants to realistically evaluate their experience and accomplishments before applying. In some cases, given the slightly lower standard and quicker processing time for an O-1B visa, it may be worth applying for this nonimmigrant visa first, before applying for a green card.
In either case, content creators and influencers are strongly advised to consult with an experienced immigration attorney before applying for a talent visa or green card. These applications inevitably require detailed evidence of the applicant’s experience and accomplishments to be able to clear the “extraordinary ability” threshold. This could include, for example, proof of collaborations with renowned brands and organisations, evidence of high earnings from previous work, documentation of active participation in prestigious events, media coverage highlighting the applicant’s commercial success, any awards that they have received, as well as recommendation letters from other respected content creators and influencers or notable figures within this industry.
It is only with a well-supported petition to USCIS, that an online content creator or social media influencer will be able to come to the US to capitalise further on their fame.
NNU Immigration are specialist US immigration attorneys providing exceptional guidance and support to individuals in the media, creative and entertainment industries, including online influencers and content creators. For advice on your circumstances and the US visa options open to you to either visit, work or move to the US, contact our experts.
US visas for content creators & influencers FAQs
Can an influencer get a US visa?
Yes, social media influencers can be eligible for a US visa, either to temporarily work in the United States under the O-1B visa or to settle in the US on a permanent basis with the EB-1A immigrant visa.
How to apply for O1B visa?
To apply for an O1B visa, you will need to have a US employer or US-based agent petition on your behalf, before applying for your “extraordinary ability” visa from your local US Embassy or Consulate in your country of residence.
Does USCIS check social media accounts?
United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) may survey social media accounts to help evaluate visa applications. In the context of O-1B visas, for those applying on the basis of being a social media influencer, this information is especially relevant.
Can a social media influencer apply for a US visa?
A social media influencer can apply for an O-1B visa on the basis of “extraordinary ability” in the context of brand ambassadorship and a high number of online followers, although any visa application will require detailed evidence in support.
Can I move to the US as an influencer?
It is possible to move to the US as a social media influencer, although you would need to demonstrate “extraordinary ability” in this context to be eligible for either a temporary O-1B visa or an EB-1A green card.
What are celebrity visas for USA?
Celebrity visas for the USA refer to either the O-1B visa for someone, for example, with extraordinary achievements in cinema or television, or the EB-1A visa, for those with extraordinary ability in the arts through sustained national or international acclaim.
Can I move to USA as a YouTuber?
As a YouTuber, you may be able to temporarily or permanently move to the USA, provided you satisfy the “extraordinary ability” test for either an O-1B or EB-1A visa, for example, with reference to a high online revenue and followers.
This article does not constitute direct legal advice and is for informational purposes only.