Have you always dreamed of auditions, going on tour with major artists or performing on legendary stages like Broadway? Are you a dancer currently not living in the United States but want to make the big move? You’re not alone! And you can totally do it! What you’re looking for is an American Artist visa for dancers.
Getting an American artist visa for dancers, is not an easy affair. And the past few years, it’s definitely not been getting easier. It’s totally doable, but it’s called a “process” for a reason.
Here’s my how-to guide with everything you need in order to file for what’s called an “O1-B Artist Visa” in the United States.
And let’s state the obvious: I’m not a lawyer, I’ve just been through the process myself, so I am explaining it in “human-language” instead of “lawyer-language”, to give you a quick overview! I hope it’s helpful!
What is an O1-B artist visa?
An O1-B artist visa is definited as a visa for: “individuals with Extraordinary Ability or Achievement”. It will allow you to work dance jobs – and only dance jobs – in the United States for a short period of time but no longer than 3 years.
You must find a good lawyer
First, find a good American immigration lawyer. Not a cheap lawyer. A good lawyer. This part is important because you’re investing a lot of time, money and energy in this. If you want to move to California find a lawyer in California. If you want to move to NYC find a lawyer in NYC.
I’ve heard many heart breaking horror stories of people getting scammed when trying to get an American artist visa for dancers, so please do your research.
I had an in-person meeting with my lawyer in his office in L.A (for free), where we went through my resumé, and he broke down the entire process. At that time, I still needed an agency for instance and other requirements that I will explain to you below. He told me what to do and to get back to him when I’ve gathered the documents I needed. I came back to him 6 or 7 months later and we started the actual process.
I’d love to forward my lawyer to you, he is so incredible and have helped most dancers I know in LA. (DM me on IG: @mathilde.veje)
How long does it take to get an American artist visa for dancers?
It’s different from person to person. First of all, you need to meet a lot of requirements that I will get to in a second, so if you don’t have an agency in the States for instance, you have to make that happen before you can move forward. If you’ve never worked any professional dance jobs before, you definitely want to wait until you’ve worked a little bit more in the industry outside of the United States before you apply.
So it depends!
But when I’d gathered all my documents and we filed my case, it took about 4 months until I had my last interview at the American Embassy in Copenhagen. But it took 2 years of me gathering documents in total I think.
Like my lawyer said: Rather take your time and do it the right way the first time, than rushing it, making mistakes and getting denied, so you have to file again.
How much does a work visa cost?
Again, it’s different from lawyer to lawyer what they charge, and the fees for the services at the USCIS can change from time to time. I paid $1400 extra to basically speed up the filing process, but the USCIS just changed that price to $2500.
Generally, I would say count on spending about $10,0000 in total, but again, it depends on your laywer, the new USCIS laws etc. etc.
But for SURE get the price from your lawyer before you start the process so you don’t get surprised.
Do I need a lawyer?
Yes, you do. The case we filed for me was about 500 pages long, and there’s just no way that I’d be able to put all of that together by myself. No way.
THIS is what you need for your American artist visa for dancers
Your heart rate will most likely go up when you read this and you will probably break a sweat and get a little concerned.
The only way to fight the overwhelm is by taking it one step at a time. YOU GOT THIS. Here we go:
1. High salary jobs
We have to prove that you’re an artist with extraordinary abilities and whatever job you can do is something that no other American can do, which is why “the industry needs you”. Therefore you have to show that you’ve had high salary jobs as a professional dancer which means contracts, bank statements or whatever else proof you have that you’ve been paid a lot of money to dance, teach or choreograph.
2. A long-term contract
They like for you to have a job on your resumé where you’ve been working with the same choreographer over and over again. The logic behind it is that if you only have single-event jobs on your resumé that doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ve been doing an amazing job.
But if you can show that you did a whole season of X Factor, been on tour with an artist for months or that a choreographer just keeps booking you, that’s better proof that you’re extraordinary and irreplacable, like Beyonce would say.
3. Subjective letters
These letters are reccommendation letters from teachers, choreographers, directors, producers or any other high profile industry person who’ve worked with you on whatever big jobs you’ve had. You attach the person’s bio, resumé and articles about them as a proof that they’re important in the industry, and they sign a reccommendation letter for you that basically says that you’re amazing and why.
4. Objective letters
This one is probably the main reason you want to go and train in the States before you start your visa process.
You need a bunch of reccommendation letters from choreographers, teachers, directors you haven’t worked with. These people need to be considered as industry experts who have to sign a recommendation letter for you where they objectively, without knowing you, can tell the USCIS that you’re great.
The letter basically says that you’re one of a kind, that you have a bright future in the States and that they would love to work with you in the future.
Can it be anyone? No. You need to prove that the person is an industry expert by attaching his/her resumé and bio, articles etc. etc.
I KNOW! Asking for letters can be scary, but there’s ONE way to get your visa and that’s by overcoming the fear of getting a “no”. Because trust me, you’ll get a no by walking up to people you don’t know very well. Just expect that, and you’ll be fine! Eyes on the prize, baby!
5. Media recognition
You have to show national and/or international recognition of your work. Maybe a major news paper wrote about you, maybe you did an interview with a magazine, a podcast with lots of listeners, it could be web articles and huge dance blogs too.. you get it. It could be an award you won as well.
You also need to find media coverage from the jobs on your resumé that can prove how outstanding and amazing the shows were. You have to find the numbers on how many people that watched it and articles that emphasizes how important the dancers were to the production.
If you danced for an artist, you also want to find articles about the artist and his/her achievements. You simply just have to prove that you’re doing great things with great people in order to get an American artist visa for dancers.
6. Prove that you played a critical role
I remember my first meeting with my lawyer and he asked me if I had shows where I was basically the center of attention and I said: “Well, I mean, I’ve always just been a back up dancer” and he smiled and said:
“Okay, you don’t know this, but starting now, we don’t ever say “just a back up dancer” again. You’re a critical dancer with extraordinary abilities”.
(Cute how this visa process is teaching you to stand up for youself too, right!)
They’re looking for moments where you were the lead, danced a solo or where you were the center of attention – not “just a back up dancer”. Basically, the more people on stage, the less significant you are.
7. A dance agency
You need be represented by a dance agency in order to get an American Artist Visa for dancers, which is why it’s a really good idea to go to the States and train many times before you apply, in order to build relationships, go to agency auditions and maybe get some recommendation letters from teachers who want to help you because they believe in you and your abilities.
Yes, you can always e-mail agencies and submit yourself online, but you know… they get a lot of e-mails, so showing your face is better. I got signed to my agency MSA in spring 2017, but didn’t return until summer 2018 with my work visa in my hand.
You can read about the LA agencies and how to get signed here!
8. The hardest one: A long term contract
This one is definitely the hardest bullet, considering that dance contracts are mainly short term. But again – it’s doable!
The duration of your American artist visa for dancers will be as long as the contract you apply with. If I was a doctor I could easily show a 2 year contract with a hospital and if I was a soccer player I could show my 3 year contract with a team, but how do you do that as a dancer? We all know that you don’t even know when the next audition is.
You can apply with one or two contracts, and when these contracts run out, your visa runs out. Having an agency is not enough because that doesn’t mean that you’re making money – that just means that you are being sent to auditions. You have to prove to the USCIS that you are making money aka. paying taxes in the US.
Whatever dance job you find must pay at least $50 an hour for at least 25 hours a month.
This one is hard because you can’t get a work visa without a dance contract, but your agency can’t send you to auditions before you have a work visa.
But it’s doable and you just need to get a little creative. You could for instance assist a choreographer or a teacher, teach classes yourself, get hired as a choreographer for a brand etc. etc.
It really doesn’t make sense to only find a 3 month contract since the visa process is so expensive and takes a lot of time. You don’t want to put in thousands of dollars only to get kicked out of the States after 3 months.
What if I don’t have a packed resumé?
That’s okay, but start working on it. Think outside of the box. Cruise ships, hotels, night clubs, commercials, teaching… there are SO many options for dancers. Even having a sh*t ton of followers on TikTok or YouTube can help you these days!
My advice to you
Be patient and take one thing at a time. Hear it from someone who’s incredibly impatient. Take your time with this.
You’ll lose your mind at least 93 times in the process, but if you really want to move to the States, you need an American Artist Visa for dancers and you’ll make it happen. I’ve lived there since 2018, and it’s so worth it.
I found an article about getting O1-B Visas in 2020 on Dance Magazine that might be helpful here ! Or of course you can always head to the US governments offical webpage right here to read about it too!
Much love, and don’t ever hesitate to reach out to me if you have any questions about American artist visa’s for dancers or need a lawyer recommendation!