The International Artist & Musician Immigration FAQ

With the start of SXSW only weeks away, international artists and musicians are making final preparations for their journey to Austin, Texas.  But while many foreign performers see SXSW as their opportunity to break into the U.S. market, there are a number of logistical factors (most importantly having the right visa), which can literally end a U.S. tour before it even happens.

As a result of recent global security clampdowns, it has become significantly harder, complicated and frustrating for foreign artists and bands to perform and work in the U.S.  Simply put, there are no shortcuts, no easy answers, and no tricks.  Regardless of whether a performing artist will be paid or not, all artists seeking to enter the U.S. to perform must obtain a work visa.

To help guide international entertainers, artists, musicians, actors/actresses, and athletes about the work permits and visa processes needed to enter the U.S., I've put together the following FAQ.  Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions, and I look forward to hopefully seeing you at SXSW. 

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What kind of visas do international entertainers, artists, musicians, actors/actresses, athletes need to obtain to enter the U.S.?

The most common visas for international artists to perform/work in the U.S. are the O and P visas.  (The O visa is also available for talented workers in other fields like science, education, business, athletics, and even fashion models).  O visas are for individuals and require an artist to have achieved a certain level of recognition, specifically that they are prominent and have achieved a degree of skill that is significantly above average.  P visas are for performing groups that have achieved international recognition, groups that are performing as part of a cultural exchange program, or groups that will be performing or teaching a culturally unique art form.

How does an artist obtain an O or P visa?

First, a U.S. petitioner must file an O or P visa petition with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) on behalf of the artist, which must then be approved USCIS.  If the petition is approved, the artist or group will be required to attend an interview at a U.S. consulate abroad and apply for the O or P visa.  If the O or P visa is issued, once the artist/group enters the U.S., each individual will need to present the visa to a Customs and Border Patrol officer for inspection before being admitted into the U.S.

Who can be a U.S. petitioner?

The petitioner for the O or P visa petition can be any U.S. citizen, U.S. employer/organization, U.S. agent, or a foreign employer through a U.S. agent (for example, a record label, booking agent/manager, etc.).

What evidence does the artist need to provide to obtain the visa?

Depending on the artist/group, and whether they are seeking an O or P visa, in addition to completing USCIS forms, the artist/group will need to provide documentation that they have performed at prestigious events, received significant awards, garnered critical acclaim, released successful recordings, or received the praise of experts.  This means providing documentation like copies of newspaper articles and reviews, lists of awards, liner notes from albums, and letters from experts familiar with the artist/group.  Additionally, each petition must include a “consultation letter” from an appropriate performing arts union stating whether or not it agrees that the artist or group meets the requirements. 

What about visas for artist managers and/or technical personnel?

Artists entering on O and P visas may bring support staff (managers, artistic directors, sound/lighting technicians, makeup, etc.) with them to the U.S., so long as these support staff provide a function integral to the performance of the O/P visa holder.  Each support personnel must submit a separate visa petition.

How long can the artist stay?

The period of stay granted for an O or P visa is for whatever time is required to complete the event.  O visa holders can be granted a period of stay up to 3 years and P visa holders can be granted a period of stay not to exceed 1 year.  The event may be a single performance or a multi-date tour/season of performances.

What will it cost and how long will it take?

The USCIS filing fee for an O or P visa is $325.  USCIS takes approximately 60 days to adjudicate the petition from the time they receive it.  However, USCIS provides “premium processing” of O or P petitions within 15 days, if you pay an additional $1,225.  Taking into account processing times at foreign consulates, the entire process can take about 3 months, so make sure to file your petition as early as possible.

Can family come?

Yes.  The spouse and unmarried children under age 21 of an O or P beneficiary can apply for a visa to join the beneficiary.

 

This brief FAQ only covers the general questions concerning the O and P visas.  For more information, please contact us.