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O-1 Visa Checklist: Getting Ready To Begin the Process

Flat lay of advanced camera gear

O-1 Visas in the Arts are for visual and performing artists, designers and writers and often for the professionals in those fields as well. Curators, producers, critics, and others are often covered by O-1s in the arts, too.

If you are thinking this might be a good option for you, and want to consult a lawyer about the process, you will benefit most by first considering the following points and the evidence that will help prove your achievements and future engagements.

Future Events and Engagements: Every O-1 in the Arts must include evidence confirming that you are coming to the US to continue work in your field. This can be for a long-term job or engagement or for a range of future projects, productions, and events covering three years.

  • There are many ways to approach the issue, but it is a good idea to get started in thinking about the issue and speaking with your colleagues and collaborators. It is important to be able to show—usually through contracts-- several distinguished future productions or events in which you will play a leading role.

  • It is also valuable to be able to establish that you will play a critical role for distinguished organizations in the future. Here, letters of recommendation or testimonials are crucial.

Your Record of Past Achievement: To establish your record of work in the past, every O-1 in the Arts must either present a major award, like an Oscar, or meet at least 3 of the following:

1. Major Role in an Event or Production: Have you played a major role in artistically significant events or productions in the past (including publications)? This is a two-pronged test:

  • Was the production or event distinguished? We always need to show that a production or event was, in some way, artistically or commercially significant. However, there are limitless ways to show that an event or production was important. We often refer to press, other distinguished artists or subject matter and funding to help meet this requirement.

  • Was your role or contribution important? For actors this means that you were in a leading role. For everyone else, the definition of “leading role” is less clear. There may be many ways to show that your work was critical even if your “title” or “credit” was not at the very top. It is useful to think about how your important contribution will be documented though public-facing materials: contracts, web site listings, promotional materials, press, and the like. Letters of recommendation are no longer admissible in this context.

2. Press: Is there press about you or about your work? It is a great idea to save/scan everything you can find about you and your projects and achievements on the web. Scans should be high quality for use in a submission to the Immigration Service. Organize your press so it makes sense to your lawyer and the USCIS.

3. Major Role For An Organization: Have you provided critical services to distinguished organizations in the past? This is also a two-pronged test:

  • Is the organization distinguished? Distinguished organizations is a broad concept and there are limitless ways to show that an organization is distinguished.

  • Was your contribution important? You will want to think about how your important contribution will be documented. Letters of recommendation are often helpful on this front, but additional documents will also help.

4. Expert and Institutional Recognition: Evidence that your work has been recognized by experts in your field or other leadership figures or organizations. This is where awards and letters of recommendation are key.

  • It is good to develop a list of who among your contacts will sign a strong and detailed recommendation letter for you.

5 and 6. Additional Criteria: There are other criteria, related to high compensation and

high sales figures. These are not critical to a strong O-1 Petition - many people do not meet these and are still great O-1 candidates.

Remember: It is not necessary to meet all of the criteria: A successful O-1 only needs to satisfy 3 or more of the points above. However, the big picture is more important than ever. The Immigration Service asks whether your evidence, considered as a whole, establishes that you have “sustained national or international acclaim and has achieved distinction in the field of arts.” As a result, assessing whether you do meet the legal standard for an O-1 Visa is a complex process, involving a detailed discussion of your past accomplishments and plans for the future. An attorney who has extensive experience in O-1 Visa Petitions is crucial to choosing whether to proceed, and to a smooth process.

If you are considering an O-1 Visa, we invite you to contact us:

Photo by Jakob Owens on Unsplash

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