Out of all the categories of professional fields the O-1 visa is open to, artists (O-1B), which includes creative professionals such as graphic designers, architects, musicians, cinematographers, producers, directors, sound mixers, actors, fine artists, photographers, fashion designers, hairdressers and culinary artists, have a much better chance at securing the highly coveted O-1 visa compared to the other categories such as scientists, business people, athletes and educators (O-1A).

A common pattern of professionals we come across at our Immigration Practice Group are those who are literally on the cusp of qualifying for the O-1. They are rising up-and-coming artists, emerging artists, young, ambitious and talented professionals who are ready to rise rapidly through the professional ranks, but not quite at the level required to be deemed “prominent” or “extraordinary”.

Very broadly speaking, the litmus test as to whether someone qualifies for O-1 status is publications. If you already have a handful of media reports mentioning your name and your key projects, this usually means there will be enough additional evidence to build an O-1 case. However, rest assured. For those who do not have such media reports, it is most definitely possible to build an O-1 case without such publications. In every O-1 case, you and your attorney will unite together in the pursuit of a common goal: to pave the road towards a smooth O-1 preparation process, and ultimately claim an approval.

With commitment and dedication, we have found that many borderline potential O-1 applicants can build a case for approval within 6 to 12 months. That means that if you are currently in the United States as a student or intern/trainee and want to apply for the O-1, it is best to start preparing as early as possible.

To be clear, constructing an O-1 case from scratch requires effort, and it’s not exactly a walk in the park. But together with your collaborative efforts in finding, preparing and producing the key pieces of evidence, along with our know-how strategies and tactics in packaging it all up in the right way, it can be done.

To obtain an O-1 visa, you must meet at least three criteria. For artists, USCIS officers will look for the following:

– Evidence that the candidate plays a critical role for distinguished organizations
– Significant recognition from experts
– Publications by or about the artist
– Serving as a lead participant in distinguished productions
– A record of major commercial or critically acclaimed successes
– A high salary or other substantial remuneration

Furthermore, the categories have a “catch all” for achievements not captured by these fixed set of criteria. This is called “comparable evidence.” So, for example, you can submit evidence of prizes and awards for artists, even though awards is not specifically a listed criterion.

To build an O-1 case, we generally recommend that you start with the low hanging fruit: publications. The regulations require publications by or about the beneficiary in major/mainstream media sources. Unless you already have media connections, we would suggest that you engage with a public relations agency.

Awards are another categorical criteria that can often be met through a deliberate strategy. Though obviously not everyone can win an award, you certainly can’t win if you don’t enter competitions. Plan to identify, prepare for, and enter as many professional competitions as possible during the 6 to 12 month O-1 preparation period. Taking part in distinguished projects is also key.

Furthermore, teaching experience, training subordinates, being a guest lecturer in your field of expertise, peer reviewing publications, being a member of a prestigious professional organization, and other such materials can all be included under the all-encompassing “comparable evidence”, but let your attorney review each one to weigh up the merits and strengths in including such items. Another key piece of evidence that can be used – distinguished clientele who can supply additional testimonial letters about you and your work. Even if you are at a junior level in your career, but have worked directly or indirectly with high-profile clientele, it can add an extra sparkle to what might have been a duller O-1.

We have dealt with many individuals with whom we have discussed and put together a longer term strategy, including publishing regular columns, entering national competitions, and also working on expanding one’s professional contacts and networks in order to obtain stronger recommendation letters. Such proactive individuals not only received the O-1 visa, but in some instances, go on to get approved for an EB-1 based permanent residence, which is basically the permanent residence equivalent for aliens of extraordinary ability. Patience is a virtue, and in many instances, it pays off.

The O-1 visa is one of the most viable and flexible options for creative individuals, both junior and experienced, who wish to pursue their professional careers in the United States. If you would like to know more about the O-1 visa, contact the Immigration Practice Group at JCKLAW on 718-539-1100 or info@jckimlaw.com.