Maybe you grew up watching “Step Up” and “Fame”, maybe you’ve been practicing MJ moves in your bedroom, maybe you’re binge-watching dance videos on YouTube after school every day, and maybe you’re dreaming of auditioning, touring or dancing on Broadway.
If you’re a dancer currently not living in the United States but who wants to make the big move, trust me – you’re not alone. And you can totally do it! What you’re most likely looking for is an American Artist visa for dancers.
Getting an American artist visa is not an easy affair. And the past few years, it’s definitely not been getting easier. It’s totally doable and many dancers get approved every year, but it’s called a visa “process” for a reason.
Here’s my little how-to guide to kick start your process, with everything you need in order to file for what’s called an “O1-B Artist Visa” in the United States.
Let’s state the obvious
I am not a lawyer. I’ve just been through the procecss twice myself. So I am explaining it in a human-language instead of a 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 SO MUCH time, money and energy into this. If you want to move to California, I’d say find a lawyer in California. If you want to move to NYC, probably 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.
The first meeting (free)
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 to meet a lot of the 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 (I didn’t at the time), 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 (and pay more money) 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 changes too.
For my first visa in 2018 I paid an extra $1400 on top of everything else to “premium process” my documents and basically speed up the filing process. For my second visa in 2021, the USCIS raised that price to $2500. I asked my lawyer why, and he just shrugged his shoulders: “Because they can”. Cool.
Generally, I would say count on spending about $10,0000 in total, but again, it depends on your laywer, the new USCIS rules etc. etc.
No matter what, it’s important that you for SURE get the price from your lawyer BEFORE you start the process so you don’t get surprised. Avoid scammers please.
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
When you read what you’re about to read you’ll probably get a little overwhelmed. That’s okay! But the only way to fight that overwhelm is by taking it one step at a time.
If I can do it, you can do it. Here we go:
1. High salary jobs
The whole point of gathering all these documents is to show that you’re an artist with extraordinary abilities and the job you can do in the States is something no American can do, which is why “the industry needs you”.
Therefore, you have to show that you’ve worked high salary jobs as a professional dancer. Proof could be contracts, bank statements, checks, venmo receipts or whatever proof you have that you’ve been paid a lot of money to dance, teach or choreograph.
2. Long-term contracts
They differentiate between long term contracts and single event jobs. If you can prove that you’ve been working with the same choreographer over and over again, that’s very good.
Their reasoning behind it is that single-event jobs don’t show that you did a great job, but if you can show that you did a whole season of X Factor, been on a tour for months and months or that a choreographer keeps hiring you on different jobs, that’s better proof that you’re extraordinary and irreplaceable, like Beyoncé would say.
3. Subjective letters
These letters are reccommendation letters from teachers, choreographers, directors, producers or any other high profile industry person who you’ve worked on whatever big jobs you’ve had. Beside the letter, you also have to attach that person’s bio, resumé and articles about them as a proof that they’re important in the industry and qualified to vouche for you. The reccommendation letter you need them to sign basically just says that you’re amazing and why you should work in the industry in the US.
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 etc. you haven’t worked with and who don’t know you personally. These people also need to be considered as industry experts and need to sign recommendation letters where they objectively (based on your resumé, videoes and reputation) sign that you’re great 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. The person doesn’t have to be American or live in the States.
Asking for letters can be scary
I know! But there’s one way to get your visa, and that’s by overcoming the fear of rejection.
What’s worse, being rejected by someone or not being able to follow your dreams? Expect some no’s and you’ll be absolutely fine. Focus on the goal here.
5. Media recognition
Let’s talk about media. There are three parts to this one. First, you have to prove 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.
Second, you also need to find media coverage from the jobs on your resumé that can prove how outstanding and amazing the shows were. The articles specifically have to talk about how outstanding and important the dancers are (not just the artist), and they’re really looking for numbers here too. Numbers? Yes. How many people were watching the show, how many people were in the stadium, how many views, is the song number one in your country etc. etc.
Third: You also want to find as many articles about the artist and his/her achievements, if you danced for an artist. Or if you did a TV show or an award show you need to find articles that basically explains what it is and basically why the USCIS should care about it.
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
This part took a while for me to understand. I remember my first meeting with my lawyer and he asked me if I had shows where I was the lead dancer and center of attention and I said: “Well, I mean, I’ve always just been a back up dancer”. He smiled patiently and said:
“Okay, you don’t know this, but starting now, we don’t ever say “just a back up dancer” again. If you’re being humble, you’re never gonna get this visa. 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, so try to think about which jobs you’ve done where you didn’t share the stage with a lot of people.
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 from your room in Europe or Africa or Asia, but you know… they get a lot of e-mails, so showing your face is much 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.
The first time I applied I only needed one contract. The second time I applied (2021) I needed one long term contract and a supporting contract that was allowed to be short term.
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.
The job must pay at least $50 an hour for at least 25 hours a month.
Finding a long term contract is a tough one, since 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.
Why can’t I just apply with a short-term contract?
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!
Read about working as a dancer in India here
Read about working on cruise ships here
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!