US Visas for Artists and Entertainers

A lot of our clients in this field expected that the visa process would be relatively straight forward. In general, they couldn't be further from the truth.

The scenario is as follows: A US producer or agent has contacted the individual with an acting or performance opportunity, but how can they get to the US? Perhaps the agent or producer has no knowledge of US visa requirements and they, therefore, ask the individual to obtain their visa first. This is unlikely to be possible, unless that individual is eligible for an employment-based (EB-first category) green card, i.e. permanent residency based on their extraordinary ability.

How do I get a US visa as an artist or entertainer?

Prior to April 1st, 1992, artists and entertainers could obtain an H-1B Specialty Occupation Visa. This allowed for an employer/agent to sponsor them for an employment visa. Since 1992, however, the majority of actors and entertainers are governed by the qualifications of “O” and “P” visas.

What is an O Visa?

An O-1B visa may be applicable here. Where an individual has either:

  • Extraordinary Achievement (motion picture and television field); or

  • Extraordinary Ability (all other theatre actors, artists and entertainer).

Artists and entertainers outside of the motion picture or television field must meet the threshold of "extraordinary ability," which means, distinction. Distinction is a high level of achievement in the arts, evidenced by a degree of skill and recognition substantially above that normally encountered. A person described as prominent is renowned, leading or well known in the field of arts.

A separate standard of "extraordinary achievement" applies to those in the field of motion picture or television. This term means a very high level of accomplishment in the motion picture or television industry evidenced by a degree of skill and recognition substantially above that ordinarily encountered to the extent that the person is recognised as outstanding, leading, or well-known in the motion picture or television industry.

What is a P Visa?

These visas are relevant to groups or individuals in the entertainment field:

  • P-1 visas are relevant only to entertainers who perform as members of an entertainment group for a particular performance or event. The entertainment group generally must be an “internationally recognized entertainment group.”

  • P-2 visas concern a reciprocal exchange program for groups or individuals between a foreign-based and US-based organisation that are engaged in the temporary exchange of artists and entertainers. For instance in the UK, there is Equity, with the corresponding US organisation – Actors' Equity.

  • P-3 visas apply to culturally unique performers. To qualify for P-3 status, artists or entertainers must be coming to the US primarily for cultural events, to further the understanding or development of the culturally unique art form.

Are there any Other Non-Immigrant Visa Options?

Not strictly speaking, unless the individual seeks a J-1 internship or training program in the entertainment field. They would, however, need to meet the relevant J-1 requirements.

If the event or performance was seasonal and temporary in nature, it may be that the individual qualifies for an H-2B Temporary Non-Agricultural Worker visa. The difficulty here, would be that it must be shown that there are not enough US workers who are able, willing, qualified, and available to do the temporary work. It must also be shown that by employing H-2B workers, this will not adversely affect the wages and working conditions of similarly employed US workers.

A final potential non-immigrant visa option is to go down the route of an E-2 investment or L-1A new office intra-company transfer visa. The individual, however, would need to set up a business in the US in this field. This is more likely to be a more viable option for existing business owners in this field. For instance, a UK production owner looking to expand to the US.

What is an EB-1 Extraordinary Ability Green Card?

A green card is an immigrant visa (permanent residency), so that the individual does not have a visa that ties them to a specific job, event or performance.

The EB-1 extraordinary ability classification is for people who are recognised as being at the very top of their field and who are coming to the US to continue work in that field. To establish eligibility, you must demonstrate sustained national or international acclaim and that your achievements have been recognised in the field of expertise. Generally speaking, this may be demonstrated by obtaining a major internationally recognised award, e.g. Nobel Prize. Otherwise you must meet other requirements, which can be discussed with an immigration attorney in more detail.

If you have any US immigration questions regarding obtaining an O-1, P, H-2B non-immigrant visa, as well as an EB-1 Extraordinary Ability Green Card, please contact us on the below. Please note that these visas are not restricted to entertainers. For instance, the P visas are also applicable to athletes.

+44 (0)203 102 7966