Distinguished Artists Are Extraordinary Artists!

By Brian Taylor Goldstein, Esq.

Hi Musical America,

I am a Danish citizen and I plan to go to the Unites States on a promo tour in spring. I know that it is necessary to apply for an O-1B visa being a solo artist. I have a native US promoter who will petition for me. My question is: How am I going to prove that I have “extraordinary ability” as a performer to qualify for an O-1B visa? It sounds to me that you need to be either Rolling Stones or Anna Netrebko to get through the needle’s eye. My music is folk/new age/healing and it has a limited audience. I do not have a big international following or a large music sale to boast. Any advice is appreciated.

While the US government doesn’t do much to support the arts, they threw us a tiny crumb when they wrote the O-1B regulations. As opposed to other professions covered by the O-1B category (sports, business, education, and science), an artist seeking O-1B classification does not have to be “extraordinary” to qualify for an “extraordinary ability” visa. Rather, the artist has to show that he or she is “distinguished.” The applicable regulations define “distinguished” as “…a degree of achievement and recognition beyond that ordinarily encountered.” While Mick Jagger and Anna Netrebko would most certainly qualify, you do not need to be at that level to obtain an O-1B visa. Nor do you need to compare your level of achievement and recognition to all musicians in all other genres. Rather, you only need to establish that you have “some” degree of recognition and achievement within the genre of folk/new age/healing music.

In preparing your petition, you would need to provide documentation of your career and achievements to show that you are at least “distinguished” in some way. Most often, these include copies of articles, reviews, blogs, and programs from your live performances, as well as any other materials written about you. You would also want to include copies of your recordings as well as proof of any awards you have won. You would want to explain that the genre of folk/new age/healing music does not get the same degree of press and attention as other genres, but that, within the genre of folk/new age/healing music, your are at least “highly praised” or “well-known”.

The most important thing is to explain everything to USCIS. The biggest mistake most artists and agents make is preparing a visa petition, attaching documents, and failing to write a comprehensive cover letter explaining the evidence. You want to hold the USCIS examiners hand and walk them through your qualifications step-by-step. Do not assume that the USCIS examiner listens to your genre of music (or ANY genre of music, for that matter) or is familiar with your awards. Explain every nuance. Explain your achievements. Explain every detail. Above all, make sure to provide translations of anything not in English.

Everything you could possible want to know about obtaining a visa for an artist is on the website www.artistsfromabroad.org. With some time and patience, you should be able to create a visa petition to obtain your O-1B without having won a Grammy, though I sincerely hope, one day, you do!


For additional information and resources on this and other legal and business issues for the performing arts, visit ggartslaw.com

To ask your own question, write to lawanddisorder@musicalamerica.org.

All questions on any topic related to legal and business issues will be welcome. However, please post only general questions or hypotheticals. GG Arts Law reserves the right to alter, edit or, amend questions to focus on specific issues or to avoid names, circumstances, or any information that could be used to identify or embarrass a specific individual or organization. All questions will be posted anonymously.




The purpose of this blog is to provide general advice and guidance, not legal advice. Please consult with an attorney familiar with your specific circumstances, facts, challenges, medications, psychiatric disorders, past-lives, karmic debt, and anything else that may impact your situation before drawing any conclusions, deciding upon a course of action, sending a nasty email, filing a lawsuit, or doing anything rash!

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