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!

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