Entertainers and other celebrities around the world come to the United States to showcase their talents. Before they can enter the US, however, they must navigate the labyrinth of immigration laws and regulations. Several types of visas may be available to entertainers, and the right fit will depend on the specific situation. The most obvious options are O visas and P visas, which are designed specifically for artists and entertainers. These require prior approval of a non-immigrant visa petition by US Customs and Immigration Services (USCIS) before the foreign national can apply for the visa at a US embassy or consulate. However, B-1 or B-2 visas can be a faster, cheaper way to come to the US in some cases. These visas do not require prior approval of a petition.
Applying for an O Visa as an Entertainer
A foreign national who can demonstrate an extraordinary ability in the arts (or in certain other fields) may qualify for an O-1 visa. These visas also are available to foreign nationals in film or television. An applicant generally must show outstanding, widely recognized achievements, beyond what is typical in their profession. An O-1 visa lasts for up to three years, although it may be extended in increments of up to one year if needed to complete the event or performance in which the foreign national is participating. Dependents of an O-1 visa holder (their spouse and children under 21) can apply for an O-3 visa, which will entitle them to study but not to work.
Documentation for an O-1 Visa Application
Advisory opinion from a peer group or labor organization (or a labor union and a management organization for applicants in film or television)
A copy or summary of the contract between the applicant and their employer or agent
Possibly an itinerary describing the nature and duration of the applicant’s activities
While O-1 visas are limited to individuals rather than groups, foreign nationals who are coming to the US with an O-1 visa holder may be able to get an O-2 visa. Their assistance must be essential to a specific event or performance by the O-1 visa holder, and they must have skills and experience for which someone in the US cannot easily substitute. This may mean that other members of a group can come to the US on O-2 visas if the leader of the group gets an O-1 visa. Dependents of O-2 visa holders can apply for O-3 visas.
Applying for a P Visa as an Entertainer
While O visas are intended for individuals, P-1B visas are intended for foreign national artists and entertainers coming to the US to perform as a group. With some exceptions, at least 75 percent of the members of the group must have had a substantial and sustained relationship with the group for one year. To qualify for a P-1B visa, the group generally must have received international recognition for outstanding achievements over a significant time. The requirement of outstanding achievements applies to the group as a whole, rather than any individual member. Supporting individuals who play an essential role in the performance of the group also can apply for a P-1B visa if a US worker cannot easily substitute for them. A P-1B visa lasts for up to one year, although it may be extended in increments of up to one year to complete the event or performance in which the group is participating.
Documentation for a P-1B Visa Application
Consultation from a labor organization regarding the nature of the performance, or a statement showing that the applicants have been performing regularly for at least one year
A contract between the group and the employer or agent
An itinerary of the events in which the group is participating
Meanwhile, foreign national artists or entertainers can apply for a P-2 visa if they are coming to the US under a government-recognized reciprocal exchange program between a US organization and a foreign organization. The foreign national may perform individually or as part of a group. They must have skills that are similar to the skills of US artists or entertainers in the exchange program. Foreign nationals who are essential to the performance of the applicant and who cannot be easily substituted by a US worker can apply for P-2 visas as well. A P-2 visa has the same duration and extension options as a P-1B visa.
Documentation for a P-2 Visa Application
Consultation from a labor organization
Proof that the US organization has agreed to the reciprocal exchange
An itinerary of the events in which the foreign national is participating, if there is more than one event
A P-3 visa provides entry to the US for foreign national artists and entertainers who will perform, teach, or coach under a culturally unique program. As with the P-2 visa, the foreign national may handle their role individually or as part of a group. They must develop, interpret, represent, coach, or teach a unique or traditional musical, theatrical, artistic, ethnic, folk, or other cultural performance or presentation. The foreign national also must participate in a cultural event in the US that will further the understanding or development of their art form. Foreign nationals who are essential to the work of the applicant and who cannot be easily substituted by a US worker can apply for P-3 visas as well. A P-3 visa has the same duration and extension options as P-1B and P-2 visas.
Documentation for a P-3 Visa Application
Consultation from a labor organization
Affidavits, testimonials, or letters from experts supporting the authenticity of the applicant’s skills in the relevant art form, or alternatively reviews or other publications showing that their performance is culturally unique
An itinerary of the events in which the foreign national is participating, if these will occur in multiple places
Dependents of any P visa holder (P-1B, P-2, or P-3) can apply for a P-4 visa, which will allow them to study but not work.
Applying for a B-1 Visa as an Entertainer
The B-1 visa is designed for business travelers, so the foreign national does not need to have an employer or agent in the US. As noted above, it does not involve prior USCIS approval of a non-immigrant visa petition, which can make the process flow more smoothly. A foreign national using a B-1 visa to come to the US cannot receive a salary from a US source, although they can receive an expense allowance or reimbursement for certain living expenses and travel expenses. A B-1 visa may be appropriate for a foreign national who is coming to the US to compete for a prize, who will participate in a cultural program sponsored only by the foreign country, or who will be recording music in US recording facilities but not performing or selling the recording in the US, among other situations.
A B-1 visa lasts for up to six months, although it may be extended in increments of up to six months. Dependents of B-1 visa holders are not eligible for dependent visas and must apply for B-2 visitor visas independently.
Applying for a B-2 Visa as an Entertainer
Amateur foreign national artists and entertainers can qualify for a B-2 visa if they will not be paid for their performances. For example, these entertainers could compete in a talent show or for charitable purposes. They must not normally receive payment for their performances, even if they are not professional entertainers and are not paid for their US performances. As with the B-1 visa, the foreign national would not need to get prior USCIS approval of a non-immigrant visa petition.
The duration of an initial B-2 visa and its potential extensions are the same as for B-1 visas. Rules for dependents are also the same.
The Visa Waiver Program
The US has designated certain countries as participants in its Visa Waiver Program, which allows foreign nationals who are citizens of these countries to come to the US more efficiently. They do not need to formally pursue a visa. Foreign nationals cannot stay for longer than 90 days under the Visa Waiver Program and cannot extend their stay. Otherwise, the same rules apply as for B-1 or B-2 visa holders.