Visa for actors and musicians

As Elton John Criticizes Access to Europe for Artists, What are the Rules for USA?

Sir Elton John has criticized the UK government for not doing enough to help musicians wanting to tour Europe in the aftermath of Brexit. John claimed artists were being figuratively (and sometimes literally) “stranded at Dover”, the name of the English town that acts as a gateway to Europe. As the issue remains unresolved, we explore the options for artists seeking to work and/or live in the United States.

Temporary Access to the US for Artists?

The US immigration options for artists depends upon whether they are seeking temporary or permanent admission to the United States. For temporary admission, the most appropriate visa is likely to be the O1B Visa for musicians, actors, and other professionals in the arts, TV or motion pictures industries (the O1A visa, by contrast, is for those with extraordinary ability in science, education, business or athletics). Applicants must have a job offer in the United States, and should – usually – meet several of the following requirements:

  • The applicant has taken a leading role in a production
  • The applicant has garnered coverage in the media or other publications
  • The applicant has been involved in a commercially successful project
  • The applicant has garnered review for their work from critics
  • The applicant has earned a high salary for their work

Your attorney will build your case based upon your career experience. Artists who are in receipt of a prestigious award are automatically eligible for the O1B visa. Support staff, such as choreographers, editors, set designers, animators, makeup artists, etc, may be eligible for an O2 Visa, provided they are there to assist the O1 visa candidate for the specific job. Spouses and children can also accompany a successful O1B visa applicant to the United States on an O3 Visa.

Permanent Residency for Artists

The O1 Visa is tied to specific jobs and limited to an initial three years – which can then be renewed in increments of one year. But what if an artist wished to stay in the United States longer? In such instances, they may wish to consider applying for US permanent residency, also known as a Green Card.

The optimal permanent residency pathway for those in the arts is likely to be the EB1A Visa. This is the first-preference employment-based immigrant visa category and is for anyone who is able to demonstrate extraordinary ability in the sciences, arts, education, business or athletics “through sustained national or international acclaim”.

The US Citizenship and Immigration Services have ten criteria for EB1A eligibility and a prospective applicant must meet at least three. This includes, media coverage, exhibitions of their work, evidence of commercial success, high earnings, participation in judging panels, and being the recipient of an award. Find the full list of EB1A criteria here.

The good news is O1 is a “Dual Intent” visa. Usually visa applicants seeking temporary admission to the United States are expected to prove they intend to depart the country after their visa expires. However, O-1 Visa holders are permitted to actively seek a Green Card during their stay in the United States. This means an applicant might start working in the United States temporarily under the O1 visa and apply for an “Adjustment of Status” to a Green Card under EB1A without being required to return to their country of origin.

The EB1A visa is not the only pathway to permanent residency and the applicant should discuss their goals and circumstances with an attorney who can present a range of options and discuss their various merits. Contact our team to discuss.

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