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Thousands of U.S. Visas for Artists

By Elisabeth Ames, Esq.

A little known fact from the U.S. immigration visa world: each year thousands of O-1B visas for foreign artists lie unused with Citizenship and Immigration Services (formerly INS). Only 9,014 O-1 visas were awarded in 2008 with thousands remaining. This low level of issuance is surprising in that these nonimmigrant visas allow an artist to work and reside in the United States up to three years. Best of all, and unlike other work visas, O-1B applicants can re-apply for this visa ad infinitum, meaning this visa category has never run out in the 15 years I have been practicing immigration law-- unlike other visa categories.

Over the years, my law office has won O-1 visas for diverse, exciting and talented foreign nationals from around the world, including a Chinese Opera Singer, Australian TV Star,  Canadian Chocolatier, Colombian Dressage Rider, and Dutch Lutenist, among dozens of others.

Established in 1990, Congress intended the O-1 to be issued for "any field of creative activity or endeavor." Under immigration regulations, the arts are virtually as large as artistic expression itself, provided the artist can demonstrate her extraordinary ability. Extraordinary ability means "distinction," which is "a high level of achievement in the field of arts as evidenced by a degree of skill and recognition substantially above that ordinarily encountered." Under immigration law, this category requires establishing that the artist has prominence in his or her field of endeavor.

Initially, many of my clients are intimidated by this legal standard and believe they are ineligible. Documenting extraordinary ability in the arts requires that the individual has an internationally recognized award such as an Oscar, Tony, Pulitzer, etc., or in the alternative, prove three of the following six criteria: lead roles in prestigious events; reviews of work; lead roles for prestigious organizations; record of commercial and/or critical success; recognition through expert letters from experts; or a high salary. A petitioner is also required and a union may need to be consulted.

My clients have included many undergraduate and graduate students as well as an actor with reviewed performances in avant-garde street theatre but lacking mainstream recognition; a writer with only one published book; and a musician with awards and CDs to his credit yet only from esoteric music houses. Yet, my office has won all these O-1B cases.

Presenting a strategically-sound visa application requires assistance from an experienced immigration lawyer, in part, because a denied application becomes a component of one's permanent immigration record - and a potential bar to entering the U.S.  Finally, preparing the application for an artist's visa is frequently a sound career move since our office assists clients in assembling a well-documented visa petition showing a comprehensive trajectory of career activities and successes, including a detailed resume. This petition not only becomes a useful and reusable packet for our clients to promote their careers, but leads to a three-year O-1 artist visa.

In the next article, I will focus on the O1-A visa for athletes, business people, scientist and educators.

Elisabeth Ames
Law Office of Elisabeth Ames
575 Madison Avenue, Suite 1006
New York, NY 10022
Tel (212) 605-0255
E-Fax (212) 253.4097
E-Mail: elisabethames@gmail.com
Visit: www.ameslaw.com
Skype: elisabethames