Touring or performing in the United States can be career-defining for an international musician. Yet, musicians without U.S. citizenship or legal permanent residency must obtain work authorization before working in the U.S.
The O-1B visa is a popular choice for musicians because it was created specifically for those with extraordinary talent in the arts or entertainment industry. This article will explore how musicians can successfully obtain the advantageous O-1B visa.
Background on the O-1B Artist Visa
The O-1B is a subcategory of the O-1 visa, a nonimmigrant visa. While the other O-1 subcategory, O-1A, is a good fit for startup founders, scientists, engineers, athletes, and top performers in various fields, the O-1B is a popular visa option for artists in the entertainment industry.
Like all work visas the O-1B requires a U.S. employer or agent to sponsor the immigrant's visa application. O-1B visa holders can work for their employer for up to three years. After the first three years, O-1B visas can be extended indefinitely in one-year increments.
Overview of the O-1B Criteria
There are a few ways to qualify for the O-1B visa category.
First, you can qualify if you have received or have been nominated for a significant national or international award in your field. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) lists the following awards as examples: Academy Award, Emmy, Grammy, or Director's Guild Award. If you've won one of these (or a comparable award in your field), your O-1B petition will be very straightforward.
If you have yet to win a significant national or international award, you can still qualify for the O-1B by satisfying at least three of six O-1B criteria. Most O-1B visa holders qualify for the O-1B through this path. The O-1B criteria include the following:
- You have and will perform as a lead or starring participant in distinguished productions or events.
- You have achieved national or international recognition for achievements in media outlets.
- You have and will perform as a lead, starring, or critical role for distinguished organizations.
- You have a track record of major commercial or critically acclaimed successes.
- You have received significant recognition from industry leaders, government agencies, critics, and other recognized experts.
- You have received or will receive a high salary.
O-1B Eligibility for Musicians
In March 2023, USCIS updated its policy manual regarding O-1B criteria. This new update clarifies the specifics of the O-1B and provides more details about how to satisfy each O-1B criterion. Let's break down each O-1B criteria for Musicians specifically.
1: You have and will perform as a lead or starring participant in distinguished productions or events.
There are two parts to this criterion. USCIS wants you to provide evidence that suggests the following:
(1) You have been a lead or starring participation in distinguished productions or events in the past
(1) You will be a lead or starring participation in distinguished productions or events in the future
The USCIS policy manual explains how they determine whether an applicant has performed in a lead or starring role: "[USCIS] officers may consider... whether the beneficiary's role is highlighted or featured in advertisements, publicity releases, critical reviews, or other materials."
Example: Liliana is the lead singer in a band that has sold over 200,000 albums and was featured in Rolling Stone.
2: You have achieved national or international recognition for achievements in media outlets.
With this second criterion, USCIS specifically asks for O-1B applicants to present the following evidence:
"Critical reviews or other published materials in major newspapers, trade journals, magazines, or other publications."
The articles need to mention you, but you do not need to be the article's subject. For instance, an article about a music festival that mentions you could be used as evidence for this criterion.
3: You have and will perform as a lead, starring, or critical role for distinguished organizations.
This third criterion is similar to but distinct from the first criterion. Here USCIS is looking for evidence that you have held the lead, starring, or critical role at a distinguished organization and will do the same in the future.
In their policy manual, USCIS defines a critical role as one that "has contributed or will contribute in a way that is of significant importance to the organization or establishment's activities."
Example: Gregory is signed to a distinguished record label.
4: You have a track record of major commercial or critically acclaimed successes.
With the fourth criterion, USCIS is looking for evidence that you have achieved significant commercial success in your field. This could include personal accomplishments or the success of productions you've been critically involved in.
For instance, you may satisfy this criterion if your music has hit the Billboard charts or you have sold a significant number of albums.
USCIS gives several examples of how you can satisfy this criterion, including through: "title, ratings, standing in the field, box office receipts, motion pictures or television ratings, and other occupational achievements reported in trade journals, major newspapers, or other publications."
5: You have received significant recognition from industry leaders, government agencies, critics, and other recognized experts.
You can satisfy this criterion with testimonial letters from leaders in your field. USCIS explains that the testimonial letters need to describe the author's credentials in the industry and detail your achievements. If you need help drafting these letters, work with a full-service immigration provider like Legalpad.
6: You have received or will receive a high salary.
You can satisfy the last criterion if you have received a high salary (or other remuneration) compared to others in your field. You will need to include evidence of the amount earned and comparative data sources that prove the significance of your remuneration.
Required documents for an O-1B petition
To apply for an O-1B visa, your U.S. employer or agent must file an I-129 petition with USCIS. Usually, O1B visa petitions include the following documents:
- Form I-129, Petition for Nonimmigrant Worker: This form is the primary document used to apply for nonimmigrant visas and must be completed and signed by the U.S. employer or agent.
- Written advisory opinion: This is a written opinion from a peer group, labor organization, or other authority in the individual's field, which describes the individual's abilities and achievements in their field of expertise.
- Evidence of the individual's extraordinary ability: This includes documentation such as awards, critical reviews, publications, or other evidence that demonstrates the individual's sustained national or international acclaim.
- Itinerary of services or engagement: This document outlines the individual's planned activities in the United States, including the dates and locations of any performances, exhibitions, or other events.
- Copy of the contract between the individual and the U.S. employer or agent: This document should describe the terms of the individual's employment, including the salary, job duties, and any other relevant information.
- Proof of the U.S. employer or agent's ability to pay the individual's salary: This can be demonstrated through financial statements, tax returns, or other documentation.
- Supporting documentation: Finally, the O-1B petition will include documents that prove the individual satisfies the O-1B requirements. For instance, evidence that they have received a major award like a Grammy or meet three or more O-1B criteria.
Get support on your O-1B visa today.
The O-1B visa is a flexible visa perfect for many musicians who wish to pursue the music industry in the U.S. Expedite your O-1B application and improve your chances of approval by working with a qualified U.S. immigration attorney.