O Visas for Athletes and Entertainers in Motion Picture and Television Productions

By: Geoffrey J. Lamoureux

Hollywood Bl sign with palm trees in Los Angeles, California.

The O visa is available to athletes and entertainers in motion picture and television productions, among other categories of workers.

Athletes must demonstrate extraordinary ability through sustained national or international acclaim. Entertainers in motion picture and television productions must demonstrate a record of extraordinary achievement.

For athletes, extraordinary ability means a level of expertise indicating that the person is one of a small percentage of people who have risen to the top of the field of endeavor. The petitioner must demonstrate extraordinary ability by providing evidence either of the beneficiary’s receipt of a major, internationally recognized award, or documentation of at least three of the following: (a) receipt of nationally or internationally recognized prizes or awards for excellence in the field, (b) membership in associations in the field that require outstanding achievement of their members, as judged by recognized national or international experts, (c) published material in professional or major trade publications or major media about the foreign national, (d) participation on a panel or as a judge of the work of others in the same or an allied field, (e) original scholarly contributions of major significance, (f) authorship of scholarly articles in professional journals or other major media, (g) current or previous employment in a critical or essential capacity for organizations that have a distinguished reputation, or (h) past or proffered high salary or other remuneration for services, evidenced by contracts or other reliable evidence.

An athlete must choose whether to apply for an O-1 visa as an individual of extraordinary ability, or for a P-1 visa as an athlete who has been internationally recognized for performance in the sport. P visas are the subject of another article. Nonetheless, an O-1 visa is often the preferred choice between the two, because U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (“USCIS”) has begun to enforce a regulation requiring petitioners of P-1 athletes to demonstrate that a sports league requires all participating athletes to be internationally recognized.

The visa is also available to coaches and trainers who independently qualify for O-1 status.

For entertainers in motion picture and television productions, extraordinary achievement means a degree of skill and recognition significantly above that ordinarily encountered. The petitioner must demonstrate extraordinary achievement by providing evidence of the beneficiary’s high level of accomplishment in the motion picture or television industry, evidenced by a degree of skill and recognition significantly above that ordinarily encountered, to the extent that the person is recognized as outstanding, notable, or leading in the motion picture or television field.

The visa is also available to directors, cinematographers, and other essential technical and creative personnel who independently qualify for O-1 status.

Support personnel may also accompany O-1 athletes and entertainers in motion picture and television productions. These O-2 support personnel must be an integral part of the activity or performance and have critical skills and experience with the O-1 beneficiary that are not of a general nature and that cannot be performed by U.S. workers.

For O-2 support personnel accompanying entertainers in motion picture and television productions, the support personnel must also have a pre-existing, long-standing working relationship with the O-1 beneficiary, or critical skills and experience that relate to a specific production being produced both inside and outside the United States, where the continuing participation of the support personnel is essential to successful completion of the production.

The O-1 and O-2 visas authorize admission for the period of the event or activity in question. Nonetheless, USCIS has settled on an initial validity period of three years to complete the event or activity. Extensions may be obtained for up to one year at a time. A beneficiary may be admitted up to 10 days prior to the validity period, and remain 10 days thereafter, although he or she may not work during the 10-day periods.

O-1 visa adjudication requirements are ever-changing, due to the expanding world of sports and the emergence of online media such as YouTube and Netflix. Therefore, it is important to consult with an experienced and knowledgeable immigration attorney to ensure that the beneficiary is properly qualified as an athlete or entertainer in a motion picture and television production, and that the application is documented for success.