• Austin Sora

4 Things I Wish I Knew Before I Applied for My First O-1 Visa

The O-1 visa, also known as the Artist Visa, is for professionals who are considered “extraordinary” in their field, whether it be arts, sciences, education, business, or athletics. This blog post will focus on the arts field.

In order to apply for an O-1, you will need to submit a hard copy portfolio (no electronic submissions allowed) that shows the “extraordinary” projects you’ve worked on, with “extraordinary” people, at “extraordinary” venues. It’s essentially an enormous scrapbook of your life’s work - one that is incredibly time-consuming and expensive, but in my humble opinion, well worth it! I am currently on my second O-1 visa and have never regretted going through the process, as it has allowed me to live my dreams!

Here are a few things I wish someone had told me before I started the O-1 visa process.

Collect everything

For every project you are a part of, the US government wants to see proof in the form of programs, posters, articles, schedules, emails, and anything else that proves you were a part of the project. If there are extra programs or posters laying around, pick them up and store them somewhere safe. Make this an ongoing habit so when the time comes to compile everything, you have it ready to go. I have a big bag where I keep all of my “visa evidence” so it is all in one place when I need it. If possible, keep more than one copy of everything. Once you submit your application, you won’t get it back, so if you need to apply for a renewal, it helps to have multiple copies in hand.

Factor printing costs into your budget

Applying for an O-1 visa can be very expensive. In 2020, the filing fee is $460 USD, plus an additional $1,440 if you want the process expedited. Additionally, your legal fees will cost $3,000-$8,000.

These are all costs I had looked up ahead of time and was expecting, but what caught me off guard was the cost of printing everything. As I mentioned earlier, O-1 applications cannot be submitted electronically, so you need to print everything out in a hard copy. Since my application was hundreds of pages long (see photo above), I ended up paying over $500 to have it printed.

Seek out performance opportunities

When I initially looked into applying for an O-1 visa, I was still a student and found out that any performances done through a school are considered educational, and not professional experience. That means college performances do not count toward your case, even if professional choreographers are involved.

So what’s the solution? Seek out performance opportunities! There are a lot of short-term projects like special events or students films that you can be a part of. Look at audition websites (ex. Backstage, Actors Access, Playbill) often and don’t be afraid to ask around! The more you put yourself out there, the more opportunities will find their way to you.

It’s all about the press

The biggest form of supporting evidence in your visa application will be your press collection. Articles that mention the projects you’re involved in are great, but articles that are about you as a performer are even better. In the US government’s eyes, extraordinary people have lots of press about themselves. Call up your local newspaper and have them do a story on your journey as a dancer. Ask your friend who writes a blog to feature you in a post. The bigger the audience the better, but any press is better than no press.

The O-1 visa is only one of many visas that non-American artists use to legally work in the US. If you found this blog post helpful, click here to download my FREE cheat sheet for non-American performers looking to study or work in the US. I’ll break down 5 different types of US work visas + permits so you can see which is right for you!


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