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O and P Visas for Artists and Entertainers

Talented persons who entered the United States as tourists but then wish to work temporarily may change their status to do so. If still abroad, performers may enter with two different types of visas: O or P. The main differences between these visas are described in this article. However, because personal situations may call for different conclusions as to the benefit that is right for each applicant, the information provided should not be considered legal advice. In addition, this issue does not discuss the requirements for performers who wish to remain and work permanently in this country as residents.

The O Visa is given to persons who come to work in the sciences, arts, education, business or athletics. All of those terms can be broadly defined so as to include chefs as a person working in the arts, for example. While applicants must demonstrate they have extraordinary ability in their field, as well as national or international acclaim, this visa is not limited only to well-known superstars. Because the Citizenship and Immigration Service is unable to determine an applicant’s skills, it will rely heavily on an advisory opinion from the appropriate union stating whether the foreigner has extraordinary abilities. The initial entry period is for a maximum of 3 years but there is no limit to the amount of 1-year extensions an O-1 can obtain. Basically, so long as they are working, they are staying.

The P Visa is granted to a performer, including an athlete, who is part of a group or team that is internationally recognized. Although the sole purpose of the stay is limited to a single performance, appearance or competition, a single event is defined by Immigration to include an entire season, itinerary or contract. For this reason, foreigners entering with P visas are granted stays of up to one year; athletes are granted entries of up to 5 years.

Generally, therefore, the visa to use is determined by the reputation of the entertainer. If she is well-known on her own merits, an O visa might be best, especially as this leads to residency in the U.S. However, if the performer is a member of a well-known group, the P visa would be the best option. If the purpose is a trip to negotiate contracts, attend an event, or meet other performers, a B1 visa – given to visitors for business – could also be considered.

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