Need A Work Visa?
Tips for getting a work visa by Suzy Miller
Many dancers around the world are attracted to employment opportunities in the American marketplace... until they encounter the task of securing a work visa. Challenging? You bet. But as our reporter Suzy Miller found out, it’s more than possible, especially if you’ve got the stamina for heavy-duty footwork.
Lead-in by Grover Dale
Suzy interviewed several prominent working dancers who “pulled it off.” Asking direct questions, she came away with answers that could put many dancers on the path to securing the documentation they will need. Read on, and please remember, Suzy does not represent herself as an expert in this matter, but is a good listener who pays attention to what she’s given and is always ready and eager to share the wealth. Here’s what she learned:
WHICH VISA SHOULD I APPLY FOR?
Most likely, the 0-1 petition. 78% of work visas for dancers are 0-1's. These are for individuals who "possess extraordinary ability in the arts, sciences, business, education, athletics, motion picture or television industry." Interestingly, there's a lower standard of distinction for artists and entertainers than for athletes, but it's complex nonetheless. You need to be definable as renowned, leading, or well-known. You need to prove you're in the top 5% of your field in the United States with specific criteria. These criteria define the pathway to America.
DO I NEED A JOB BEFORE I CAN APPLY FOR A WORK VISA?
YES. The 0-1 allows you to enter the U.S. to "perform temporary services for a U.S. employer for an event or events requiring your expertise." You don't actually fill out the petition yourself; you need a petitioner to do that on your behalf. Besides a direct employer, this can be someone like an agent or agency, a manager, a producer, an organizer. Their principal burden (besides the yards of paperwork) is to swear under oath that the contents of the petition are, to the best of their knowledge, true. Finding a sponsor and petitioner is crucial.
WHAT DO I DO FIRST; FIND A PETITIONER AND JOB, OR ORGANIZE THE VISA REQUIREMENTS?
We like what Debby Moseley did with her daughter Stephanie; she prepared everything so when a willing petitioner/employer eventually appeared, there was little they had to do besides review the well-organized, intricate package.
WHAT IS THE CRITERIA FOR JOBS THAT QUALIFY?
Good examples include conferences, conventions, tours, promotional appearances, company work, general or commercial performances, film or television projects, theater productions, etc. The employer must be American or a U.S. agent for an international employer. Although the definition of "event" can be thankfully broad, a contract spelling out your work terms is required. Once you receive your visa, you can add jobs without filing a new petition if they're with, or in association with, the same petitioner. "Each time I work for someone else, I need a signed letter saying my employer doesn't need me right now and I can work for someone else," one Canadian dancer told us.
HOW LONG WILL IT TAKE ME TO FULFILL THE REQUIREMENTS?
It depends on what you've accomplished and documented thus far in your training/career. One interviewee told us it took about 2 years to complete the requirements, then another year to prove it to the USCIS.
DO I NEED TO HIRE AN IMMIGRATION ATTORNEY?
We got different answers on this one. All our sources agreed that it's a good idea to have one lined up in case it becomes necessary; some sources say it's crucial. The cost for one dancer was about $5,000 in attorney fees, but she felt in the big picture, that figure was minimal. It was also recommended to us to find a guide, someone who has successfully gone through the process - a mentor. "I'm a firm believer that if you want to do or be something, find someone who's done it before you," one dancer told us. She found and hired a successful L.A. dancer who had gone through the visa process herself to help put their submission together. Seeking out someone who knows the ropes is an invaluable shortcut.
IS THERE ANY OTHER CRITERIA I NEED TO BE AWARE OF?
1. You need an "advisory opinion" from a union or appropriate peer group confirming the nature of the job, your qualifications, and the qualifications required for the gig. Examples would be SAG-AFTRA, AAGVA, AE, AGMA, and possibly Dancers Alliance, though that's not definite. If no appropriate union for you exists, a letter from an expert in the field might suffice.
2. Many unions charge $250 per consultation.
They have 15 days to respond; if they don't, the USCIS is free to continue adjudicating the petition. Technically, an application can be approved without this, but it's far easier with it.
1. International recognition. This can be achieved with an internationally recognized prize/award, or by booking an international job. We know several Visa'd dancers who fulfilled this requirement via successful auditions for themepark and cruiseship production companies.
2. Documentation and Evidence. Three items are necessary here: a contract settingout terms and conditions of the job, an itinerary with a schedule and end date, and the biggest file of all: proof of your achievements and recognition of your extraordinary ability. On rare occasions, one item will suffice for this, if it's a significant award such as an Emmy, Grammy, or Academy award. Barring this, you can prove your case by meeting at least 3 of the following criteria:
A - Starred in major productions/events with distinguished reputations, as documented by reviews, ads, press releases, contracts, etc.
B - Received national/international recognition through reviews or other published materials (DanceBlast exposure become useful here).
C - Worked prominently with distinguished organizations, proven by media articles and/or testimonials.
D - Have record of major commercial or critically acclaimed success.
E - Recognized by organizations, government agencies, critics, or experts in the field.
F - Proof that you've commanded or will command high salary in relation to the norm.
WHAT IS CONSIDERED VALID "EVIDENCE?"
Evidence can include things both obvious and less so. Here’s a list of examples:
Educational documents (i.e., diplomas and academic transcripts)
Awards and prizes - these are very important, and it's suggested you include every award or prize received, even old student or merit awards (Dancers To Watch, Agent Referrals, and Featured positions on A4D's).
Screen credits - freeze frame printouts are suggested.
Pay stubs/tax returns, W2s - evidence of your ability to command top rates.
News articles and press releases - any time your name appears in print, including articles about projects in which you played a key role even if you're not specifically mentioned. (see A4D items mentioned above)
Posters, video covers, cd covers - these make a great impression.
Bios/resumes/headshots, updated with a contemporary layout.
Testimonials - These are VERY important. It's suggest you get at least 5-7, but we've talked to dancers who submitted as many as 14. These must be specific and include author credentials (resume or bio) and how they know you. These can come from choreographers, dance instructors, performers, or even peers from here or abroad.
If not enough evidence is provided, a RFE (Request for Evidence) may be issued.
CAN I USE SCHOLARSHIPS FROM DANCE CONVENTIONS AS EVIDENCE?
YES. Conventions and competitions can play an important role in several ways. Dancers who are awarded scholarship positions from competitions like L.A. Dance Force, found them extremely helpful in establishing credibility as an exceptional dancer in the field. And then there are “connections” made at conventions. One of LA's top choreographers recalls his first impression of a non-American dancer at a convention. "I called her onstage to demonstrate, and thought, I'm gonna use her someday." A few years later, he did. Considering the testimonials requested, having a USA choreographer as a resource is no small thing.
HOW CAN I EARN, AND THEN PROVE THAT I MAKE TOP WAGES?
It's important to pursue work opportunities while in your native country, hopefully booking jobs that equal or exceed Dancer's Alliance rates. Accumulating local jobs and experiences before you hit LA pays off in many ways; it's a career step all young dancers should shoot for.
WHAT DO THEY MEAN WHEN THEY SAY "PUBLISHED?"
This can be either photo or print. A determined and resourceful approach to goals pays off here - we know one dancer's mom who created a photo opportunity based on, of all things, her daughter's vitamins! "I went to the manufacturer and said this is who she is, these are the vitamins she takes, and here are some photos - let us know if you ever need anybody for print. They used her for a national campaign for a drug store chain." For an article to qualify in the publishing category, the same mom wrote to Dance Magazine until she wore 'em out! "I just kept sending little stories about her until someone paid attention," she shrugs. Another criteria crossed off the list.
HOW LONG WILL IT TAKE ONCE THE SUBMISSION IS MADE? AND HOW LONG DOES AN 0-1 VISA LAST?
The real time is in the preparation. Once it's submitted, depending on the backlog, it's estimated between 30-60 days. There's an option of expediting with a processing fee of $1,000 per petition (vs. the usual $130). This guarantees action within 15 days, but comes to $2,260 upfront, not including union consultation fee. The duration of the visa is three years, with possible one-year extensions.
IS THE 0-1 THE ONLY OPTION I HAVE?
In the arts, there are 0 petitions and P petitions. O's are generally for individuals for extended periods; P's for groups or companies for shorter durations. There's also a P-3 petition for culturally unique performers or groups, teachers, and coaches. If you don't have the record of achievement necessary, but have a college degree related to dance and are coming for a "professional" position (meaning a college degree is the typical requirement), you may be eligible for an H-1B. This requires an employer paying the prevailing wage, proven with a department of labor certificate.
Student visas are an option for younger artists - they allow you to work in only a limited capacity, but many get their start by entering as students, obtaining practical training, then switching to an H1B or O1.
Nationals from many countries may enter the U.S. without a visa for upto 90 days, but can't work. They also can't extend their stay, nor change to another status; if they book a job they must depart and re-enter with a working visa. Any questions, and they're sent back home on the next flight out.
Whatever you do, don't try to circumvent the visa process, even when no compensation is involved, or you risk long term consequences for all parties involved.
WILL HAVING AN 0-1 HELP ME QUALIFY FOR A GREEN CARD?
There are three avenues to attain permanent residency in the U.S. One involves again, proving that you are of extraordinary ability, which would indeed be easier with high profile American jobs on your resume. A second but related avenue is to have an employer establish there are no U.S. workers available to do the same work, again easier if you've held that position in question already. However, the employer must advertise availability of a fulltime, permanent position offering prevailing wages, and prove to the department of labor that no qualified American workers applied. With either of these options, you must also prove you have future work in your field in the U.S., and find an employer to sponsor you. The third way, and the only way that doesn't require an extensive resume, is to marry a U.S. citizen!
IF I GET AMERICAN CITIZENSHIP, CAN I KEEP MY ORIGINAL COUNTRY’S CITIZENSHIP AS WELL?
Each country has different rules regarding this. In Canada, for example, you do not have to give up your rights as a Canadian. Canadians do not need to give up Canadian citizenship in order to obtain U.S. citizenship and vice versa is also true. Other countries do allow dual citizenship. Here's a link with more info: http://travel.gc.ca/travelling/publications/dual-citizenship.
WHAT ARE SOME REASONS MY VISA MIGHT BE DENIED?
Visas can be denied for a number of reasons, including concern that the applicant doesn't plan on returning home... has lied... doesn't have enough money to support themselves in the U.S.... or has a criminal record. However, many applicants do have an arrest on their records, and it's most important not to lie about it - arrest or conviction is not an automatic reason for ineligibility, but failure to disclose it is. This includes record of drug arrest or a DUI conviction, even as a teenager. If you have a record, it's recommended to secure legal advice from a U.S. attorney.
90% of petitions denied are the result of poor organization, mistakes, miscalculations on fees, missing info, and most of all, rushed preparation. Allowing enough time for the preparation and review is your best defense. O-1s are rarely denied. If for some reason yours is, you can appeal, or, given that appeals are long and expensive, you can consider refiling as a new case (informing them of the prior denial and file number.)
WHAT SHOULD I BE DOING IN MY HIGH SCHOOL YEARS TO START WORKING TOWARDS MY 0-1?
Here's our suggestion of a preparatory plan:
1 - Train with notables in the field whenever possible and develop connections for your testimonials. Be an active player on Answers4Dancers. Communicate and interact with other dancers.
2 - Conventions and competitions - use these as a good source for the above.
3 - Awards and Scholarships - Go for them with gusto and keep documentation on all results.
4 - Research and Goal Set for a profession - know the market you'd like to aim for so you can focus your energies on specific experience.
5 - Book and document local paying work whenever possible.
6 - Book local jobs that may or may not pay, but have a good chance of getting reviewed or featuring you in promotional articles.
7 - If possible, book a significant international job.
8 - Find ways to get published in print and photo.
9 - Keep documentation on all related paying jobs; research standard pay scales.
10 - Keep your eyes open for an appropriate sponsor and petitioner.
11 - Research immigration attorneys.
12 - Consider finding an experienced mentor to help you create your submission.
ANY OTHER TIPS?
Make copies of everything!! Also, never rely solely on USCIS instructions - they're complicated, confusing, prone to inconsistencies, mistakes, and delays, and the department itself is overworked and Understaffed. Check their website regularly for changes and updates. Expect unexpected problems. Keep your legal advisor familiar with your status. Filing a petition takes a lot of planning. Information is knowledge. Do the research, know your stuff. Complete all forms properly, submit the correct number of copies, file on time, and pay the correct fees.
WHERE CAN I FIND MORE INFORMATION?
We all know by now what an amazing resource the world wide web is. Answers4dancers is only one of the resources available to you.
Here are additional sites where we found valuable information:
www.onlinevisas.com - very good comprehensive breakdown
www.dancenyc.org - faq - operations - includes sample letters and forms
www.uscis.gov - USCIS home page
www.artistsfromabroad.org - very helpful
GROVER DALE’S WRAP-UP!
These informative ideas were made possible by the amazing generosity of A4D’s wonderful reporter, Suzy Miller, and a small band of dancers, parents, agents, and choreographers. Witnessing everyone’s willingness to share valuable experience for the benefit of others happens on Answers4dancers. Support like this clearly resonates with the prospect of hopeful and rewarding futures for all.
HOW A4D'S JESSA DOLL GOT HER O-1 VISA
You can read the full story of Jessa's journey to her first O-1 visa and how she continues to apply and get approved. Plus she has some great tips for you. Read her story here, Jessa Doll's Visa Journey.
A4D is not responsible for any lawful or legal inaccuracies in the information provided. We have provided suggestions and urge you to view it as such. In putting it to use, we urge you to seek assistance from governmental agencies and appropriate immigration attorneys. In closing, we wish you the best of luck navigating the waters of securing your way into the American dance industry.