Musician Visas

One of the options available to musicians of extraordinary ability or achievement who wish to extend their stays in the US is the O-1 Visa. With all the music schools in Boston — Berkleethe Boston Conservatorythe Longy School, and the New England Conservatory that attract some of the best musicians in the world, not to mention the many performance centers, it should come as no surprise that there is quite a bit of interest in this topic.

(This visa is also available to aliens of extraordinary ability in science, business, athletics, or in the field of film or television, but I want to discuss how a musician, in particular, could go about getting this visa.)

USCIS grants an O-1 visa for an initial period of three years, after which it can be renewed in one year increments.

The regulations for this category of the O-1 Visa can be found at 8 C.F.R. § 214.2(o)(3) et seq.

One cannot self-petition for an O-1; an agent or employer must do this.

To prove extraordinary ability, the musician has to show three of the following six items:

  1. Evidence that the musician has performed in a starring/leading role in productions with a distinguished reputation;
  2. Evidence that the musician has achieved national and international recognition for his or her work, as shown by critical reviews;
  3. Evidence that the musician has performed in a lead, starring, or critical role for organizations and establishments that have a critical reputation;
  4. Evidence that the musician has a record of critically acclaimed successes as shown by the number of reviews and letters of support he or she has received for his or her work;
  5. Evidence that the musician has received significant recognition from organizations, critics, and government agencies for his or her work; and
  6. Evidence that the musician has commanded, or will command, a high salary or remuneration in comparison to others in the field.

Once the evidence is gathered, the next next step is to get an advisory opinion from a peer group such as the American Federation of Musicians. The evidence and advisory opinion are then submitted to the USCIS along with:

  • form I-129 with O Supplement,
  • filing fee,
  • offer of employment,
  • itinerary of engagements for the desired visa period,
  • copy of passport, and
  • prior immigration documentation (if the musician has ever been in the US).

The immigration attorney’s role in all of this is to gather the documentation and present it to USCIS in a compelling manner — so that the examiners, who have heavy caseloads, can review the application and, hopefully, find that it meets USCIS standards for the grant of a visa.

The O-1 can be a step on the path to permanent residence, if at some point in the future the musician wishes to self-petition. But more on that another day!

UPDATE: 4/14/07 — on April 11, 2007, USCIS announced that, beginning on May 16, 2007, O Visa petitioners will be able to file for the visa up to a year in advance of the proposed start date of the visa. Previously, petitioners could only file six months prior to the proposed start date. This is excellent news!

Naturalization: applying for your United States Citizenship

For many people, United States citizenship is the ultimate goal of the immigration process. The benefits of citizenship include the ability to vote, the ability to apply for permanent residence (or “green card”) for family, and freedom from deportation or removal if there are any changes in the law, or if ignorance of US law causes someone to run afoul of the authorities; for example, the permanent residents from the Philippines who were charged with enslaving their maid. Although they claimed that the charges were the result of a misunderstanding of cultural norms for domestic employees, they are now facing possible deportation — which, if they had been citizens, would not have been the case.

In most cases, a permanent resident can apply for U.S. citizenship after having had the green card for five years (although USCIS allows applications to be submitted three months before the five year mark) or, in the case of those who got their green cards through marriage to a US Citizen and are still married to the petitioning citizen, three years (USCIS allows applications to be submitted three months before that time, as well). There are special rules for permanent resident members of the armed services, and in some cases, for spouses of members of the armed services.

To apply for citizenship, use the form N-400.

There are some preliminary concerns:

  1. Are you at least 18 years old?
  2. Have you lived in the district where you’re filing for at least three months?
  3. Have you paid your taxes (not on the NR forms) since obtaining your green card?
  4. If you are a male and had your green card at any time between the ages of 18 and 26, did you register with Selective Service?
  5. Can you read, write, speak and understand the English language?
  6. Have you been in the U.S. for at least half of the last five years (or
    of the last three years, if applying based on marriage to a U.S.
  7. Have you ever been arrested?
  8. Have you ever left the U.S. for more than six months at a time?

If you answered “no” to any of questions 1-6, or “yes ” to any of questions 7-8, you should consult with an immigration attorney. This is generally a good idea anyway, as immigration law is quite complex and subject to change. Besides these questions, there are many more questions on the N-400 which can be traps for the unwary.

Once you apply, if your application packet is in order (with photographs, the current application fee, and a copy of your permanent resident card, plus whatever supporting documentation is needed), you’ll first be called in for fingerprints, and then for your naturalization interview. The time this takes can vary, depending on the backlog at your local District Office. In Boston, the wait times are fairly short… 4 to 8 months, in many cases.

USCIS should have done a criminal records check by the time of your interview. The interview will consist of a review of your papers by the District Adjudications Officer, a civics exam, and a test of your understanding of the English language. In some cases, depending on age or disability, it’s possible to get a waiver of the English requirement (you can bring a translator to assist), or  to take a simplified version of the civics exam. If you pass the exams, USCIS will schedule a swearing-in ceremony, though sometimes, you have to wait for the results of the background check.



I’m pleased to be starting this blog on topics of interest to the immigrant community. I’ll be discussing citizenship issues, permanent residence (green card), asylum and the various visas available. From time to time, I will discuss other areas of law, as well. For example, recently, I’ve been helping immigrant workers who weren’t paid overtime, or who were not paid at all — because the employers thought that their employees would never complain about such treatment. However, when the workers learned about their rights, they took action to get the money they were owed.

My office is in downtown Boston, close to all subway lines. I look forward to meeting with some of you in the future!