In the first part of our US Work Permits for Canadian artists series, we explored the P-2 Visa, a popular first-time option for emerging musicians and producers looking to cross over to the American market. While the P-2 Visa is a great permit for artists who are in the earlier stages of their careers seeking to reach an international audience, there are other options for those who have already received a certain level of recognition. It’s important to do the research to understand the right fit for your artistic career – and we’re here to help expedite the process!

In part 2, we dive into the O-1 visa, which is for individuals who’ve demonstrated extraordinary ability or achievement. Read on for all the information you need to secure the permit best suited to your situation, and to prepare the necessary steps to access exciting opportunities south of the border. 

O-1 Visa: Individuals with Extraordinary Ability or Achievement

If you’re an artist who has experience under your belt, and a record of your achievements in the music industry to back you up, the O-1 Visa might be the optimal choice for you. To qualify, individuals must be seeking to travel temporarily to the States to continue work in their specific area of “extraordinary ability”.

The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) states the following: “The O-1 nonimmigrant visa is for the individual who possesses extraordinary ability in the sciences, arts, education, business, or athletics, or who has a demonstrated record of extraordinary achievement in the motion picture or television industry and has been recognized nationally or internationally for those achievements.”

Boddie & Associates P.C. – O 1 Visa Requirements & Step by Step Guide

There are several types of visas in the O nonimmigrant classification:

  • O-1A: Individuals with an extraordinary ability in the sciences, education, business, or athletics (not including the arts, motion pictures or television industry);
  • O-1B: Individuals with an extraordinary ability in the arts or extraordinary achievement in motion picture or television industry;
  • O-2: Individuals who will accompany an O-1 artist or athlete to assist in a specific event or performance; and
  • O-3: Individuals who are the spouse or children of O-1 and O-2 visa holders.

Musical artists will be looking at the O-1B visa. So what exactly does “extraordinary ability in the arts” mean? According to the USCIS, it represents distinction. The high level of achievement required in the industry can be demonstrated by “a degree of skill and recognition substantially above that ordinarily encountered, to the extent that you are prominent, renowned, leading, or well-known in the field of arts.”

The initial period of stay is up to three years, with a possibility of extension of up to one year, based on the time determined required to accomplish the initial activity. 

For more details on applying for the O-1 Visa, see the USCIS Policy Manual Volume 2.

Petition Application Steps

The application process for the O-1 visa involves several key steps. Like for the P-2 visa, you’ll want to start the process by getting a U.S. employer, U.S. agent, or a foreign employer through a U.S. agent to submit Form I-129, Petition for Nonimmigrant Worker, on your behalf. To ensure a smooth process, the form must be filed with the USCIS at least 45 days prior to the intended employment start date. Please note that this petition cannot be filed more than one year before the services are actually needed.

Sethi & Mazaheri Law Firm – Immigration to the United States

Along with Form l-129, the petitioner (your U.S. employer or agent) will have to submit additional documentary evidence. First off, they will have to obtain a written advisory opinion from an expert or a peer group in the artist’s field of expertise. For music professionals with extraordinary achievements in motion pictures or television, the consultation must come from an appropriate labor union and a management organization with expertise in the applicant’s field. In order to confirm authenticity, the consultation document should have a watermark or distinctive marks.

Consultation requirements can be waived in certain situations, like when an appropriate peer group or labor organization does not exist, or when an applicant with extraordinary ability in the arts seeks readmission within two years. In that case, a waiver request and a copy of the previous consultation can be submitted. 

Contract Documentation 

Contract documentation plays an important part of the application package. A copy of the written contract between the petitioner and the beneficiary (AKA you, the artist), or a summary of the terms of an oral agreement, must be provided. The petitioner also needs to offer details about the nature, start and end dates of events or activities, and a copy of the itinerary (if applicable). This helps establish that there are events or activities awaiting you in the field of extraordinary ability for the requested period.

Finally, the petition will have to provide evidence of your eligibility – proof that you do in fact have extraordinary ability in your field. This should include at least three different types of documentation or comparable evidence to establish that you meet the relevant classification standards. 

Applicable forms of documentation include evidence that you have and will perform in distinguished productions or events – as proven by reviews, ads, or contracts – and evidence that you’ve achieved national or international recognition in major newspapers, magazines, or other publications. 

For more examples of accepted evidence, see section D. O-1B Beneficiaries in the Arts on the USCIS website.

Costs and Processing Time

As mentioned in part 1, the Form I-129 Petition for Nonimmigrant Worker filing fee is $460 USD, paid by the employer, with a typical processing time of up to a few months. Payment methods include money order, personal check, cashier’s check, or credit card using form G-1450, Authorization for Credit Card Transactions.

If you’re in a rush to secure your work permit, USCIS also offers expedited “premium processing” for an extra $2,500 USD, on top of the filing fee. USCIS guarantees a decision within 15 days or refunds the fee. This service can be requested during I-129 filing or while the application is pending, with payment options for both the employer and the O-1 artist.

We know all the information can feel overwhelming, and you might still be asking yourself which visa is right for you. In the final part of our series, we’ll talk to artists who’ve secured U.S. work permits about their experience, and how they chose the right option for their circumstances. Stay tuned!

To learn more about US work permits for Canadian artists, check out part 1 of our series: a Guide to the P-2 Visa.

Written by Maryse Bernard
Illustration by Yihong Guo