Voice of Immigration

U.S. Visas for Entertainers and the Arts

Episode Summary

Each year, artists and entertainers from around the globe try to come to the U.S. to be part of the entertainment boom and contribute to the melting pot that is the American culture. We'll talk about some of the challenges, winning strategies and how to start the visa process for artists and entertainers.

Episode Notes

There are several U.S. visa options available for entering the U.S. as an artist or entertainer.

O1-B: Extraordinary Ability Visa

P1-B Visa: for Entertainment Groups Recognized as Outstanding

P3 Visa: for Culturally Unique Artists or Entertainers

Touring in the U.S. and Issues with the B1 Visitor Visa

The Changing Landscape of Immigration

Read the Full Article

Episode Transcription

Dave Kelso: Hi there. Welcome to OnlineVisas.com: The Immigration Show. I'm your host, Dave Kelso, here with my cohost, CEO of OnlineVisas.com, Mr. Jon Velie. Jon, how are you today, sir?

Jon Velie: Just delivering dreams, Dave.

Dave Kelso: You know it's funny that you mentioned that. I was reading some entertainment statistics lately. The Rolling Stones are playing in the United States, and I love The Rolling Stones and I really want to go to the show. The United States, entertainment capital of the world. We spent $43 billion on movies last year, 30 billion on concerts last year, and even as down as the music industry is, Americans spent $10 billion on recorded music, and that's just last year.

Jon Velie: Wow.

Dave Kelso: So it got me thinking about the rest of the world that tries to come and contribute to our melting pot of culture that is the United States, and that there must be a lot of visas and things like that. Then I got to thinking about Keith Richards and his checkered past, and I thought maybe it's very difficult for people in your position to get some of these folks in. So I thought I would want to talk to you about-

Jon Velie: Let me give it a shot.

Dave Kelso: ... for visas for the entertainment industry. Let's talk about, there has to be some Extraordinary Ability Visas for the entertainment industry. Let's start there and talk about those.

Jon Velie: Okay, so Extraordinary Ability, the temporary version of that is called the O1-B and the permanent or green card version is called the EB1-1. EB stands for Employment Based, so one is Extraordinary Ability and somebody like Keith Richards or Mick Jagger or any of the like would likely be able to get those. There's about eight criteria of which you need to hit three. Merely hitting three isn't enough. It's you have to show you've risen to the top of the profession. That can be having won awards, so Grammies or those like, if you've got that you're in, that's all that matters. If there is a lesser international or national award, that could be one of the categories, elite memberships. I think maybe these guys have been knighted because of that.

Dave Kelso: Mick has and they're in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, which is definitely gold membership.

Jon Velie: In the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame would be elite memberships and probably an international award. Media about them would be everywhere, article reviews, things like that. I'm kind of going through the O1-A categories, which you can do, high salary, those sort of things. The O1-B category, which is for entertainers, exclusively for entertainers is showing if you are a star and if that's shown by critical reviews, contracts, PR, press releases, those sorts of things. Obviously they do that. If you've been with an organization of distinguished reputation such as The Rolling Stone, and award-winning band, then that would be in those lines. There's similar types of scenarios that would be.

Dave Kelso: Now somebody like Keith Richards would get the Extraordinary Ability Visa because he meets all of that criteria.

Jon Velie: Right, either the O1-A or O1-B.

Dave Kelso: But what about a young guitar phenom that has an extraordinary ability, but maybe he's not as famous as Keith Richards?

Jon Velie: Well, very interesting that you said young guitar phenom, right? So the P1 is for the internationally recognized as excellent, which is a lower standard than the Extraordinary Ability. Now unlike athletes that can be individual athletes and get the P1, like a runner or a tennis player, skier, you can't do it as an individual under the P1-B. You have to be in a band, right? And you have to have played in that band for one year. The band has to be together for a year and they can maybe trade out a drummer. So you know Pete Best is thrown out and Ringo Starr comes in, the Beatles could still get a P and Pete Best could come and play if it's just one of the guys.

Dave Kelso: Well, what would somebody like Yo-Yo Ma do, the cellist who is a solo artist?

Jon Velie: Well, he's extraordinary, so he'd come on that. So the new guy wouldn't be able to. He'd either have to come in as a band or come there. Now that takes us to the P3, the culturally unique. So a mere cellist couldn't get in and as a P3 if that style of music is commonly played in America or as an American music, like jazz maybe, but if they're playing some sort of, we just did one for a really interesting rap style, kind of Reggae-ish African music. We did one, a P3 for that.

Dave Kelso: Where do we go here?

Jon Velie: Right, I know.

Dave Kelso: That sounds fantastic.

Jon Velie: These guys are touring the country. We've done burlesque dancers under the P3, Australian burlesque dancers. You may not have known that there's a pipeline from Australia to the Moulin Rouge. One of the greatest Moulin Rouge dancers of all time was an Australian. So I got to represent one of the later Australian Moulin Rouge dancers-

Dave Kelso: That's funny.

Jon Velie: Who was coming to Vegas to not be a showgirl, but to do burlesque.

Dave Kelso: That is culturally unique.

Jon Velie: Immigration actually asked me a legitimate question was whether burlesque was the same as stripping, which it's not. It's skits, although titillating. I know, right? Are really forms of comedy and her show was really funny because it had sort of a standup comedian, very vaudevillian that would be between these sort of risque skits that she was in.

Dave Kelso: Oh, nice. It sounds fun.

Jon Velie: So it was a lot of fun to do that one. But I think immigration approved that one with a smile on their face.

Dave Kelso: Did you have to give them some free tickets to the show?

Jon Velie: Well, we went to the show. It was fun to see. All right, so those are really the three, the O1-B, you could also do the O1-A, but O1-B specifically for entertainers. The P1 bands, not individuals, or being as part of a movie, but not just an actor. So these are actors, entertainers, anything like that, P3, culturally unique. And that can be any sort of artist. We did some of the Dalai Lama's monks under the P3. They do two forms of art, chanting and the other was they do this sand mandala.

Dave Kelso: Those things are amazing. Have you ever seen them make one of those?

Jon Velie: Yeah, I have and they're fantastic. They made the sand mandala, and then in a very a Buddhist thing, they blow it away. They went down to a river with this and it took them days to make this beautiful thing, and then they just went to the river and went... And it all went away and it made you transcendent.

Dave Kelso: Transcendent. We're talking with Jon Velie, he's the CEO of OnlineVisas.com. We're talking about visas for artists and entertainers. One question I have is that these young kids I was just reading here on a music blog sometime ago, that because of the immigration situation in the United States right now, some of these young kids are having trouble getting to festivals like South by Southwest because they can't get visas. What's to stop these kids from just coming to America on a tourist visa? They are on tour.

Jon Velie: Yeah, we just had this issue the other day and literally had to pull the plug on it. Amateurs can come to a unpaid music festival and play on B1 Visitor Visa. Professionals can't. They're now more and more about making people turn over their social media and stuff like that. So if they're promoting their show, things like that, and links to their website, all the things that you would do, right, and that these are professional artists, you can't come as a visitor. Isn't that ironic?

Dave Kelso: Right.

Jon Velie: Then so a lot of times, which is really interesting, we'll get calls from promoters saying, "We just want somebody to come in for a weekend," right? It's the same amount of work for us to do one of these visas for a weekend as it is for three years, right?

Dave Kelso: Might as well stay.

Jon Velie: And unfortunately the same cost, right? Well, the promoter doesn't care if they stay that long day. They want him for one show. So we work with them, "Hey, can you do tours? Can you do multiple things?"

Jon Velie: Now the really neat thing about the O's and the P's for artists and entertainers, for these non-immigrant ones, is you can do agent-based petitions. We actually serve that role. We have created an international sports and entertainment agency where we will be the petitioner and the gigs, like there'll be multiple gigs and venues, or movie productions or television shows, do an album, can all be direct employers. So you kind of have an umbrella of the agent and then the direct employers are what they're going to do, and you show a schedule of events in which they'll do that. So that's the neat thing that you can do that athletes and entertainers and artists can do that a techie can't. A techie can only come in and work for Microsoft. You can't just do whatever. It can't be a freelancer. So that sort of leads to that we can talk about the Green Cards that come out of that.

Dave Kelso: Sure, sure, sure, sure, yeah. We're talking with Jon Velie, the CEO of OnlineVisas.com. We're talking about some of the winning strategies, some of the difficulties, some of the Green Card Visas associated with the arts and entertainment industry. Now, you mentioned the Green Cards. Let's start with the EB1-1.

Jon Velie: Like the O1-B, it's Extraordinary Ability, right? But it works more like the O1-A. The O1-B is have you been a star, are you going to be a star, those sorts of things. Little easier to hit that because a lot of those ones are similar, right? So being a star and then being a star in an organization with a distinguished reputation and looking at critical reviews and those sorts of things, you can have one or two events that fit in all the different categories. Well, the O1-A is going to have different things. It's gonna look at awards. It's going to look at membership and elite associations, media. It can be showcases, right? So they can be showing their things there. You can book at high salary or remuneration, right? You can look at a ratings, if they're on the charts as a musician, these are different things. It's more similar to the O1-A, but that's the EB1 for Extraordinary Ability.

Jon Velie: We've done some fun ones, right? We sort of invented a phrase that we called the, god, what did we call this guy? We called him an "extreme entertainer," sort of as opposed to extreme athlete, and this was my friend Cam McQueen. Cam was a stuntman. Do you remember the show Jackass shot in Knoxville?

Dave Kelso: I do, I do. I've still got scars.

Jon Velie: Jackass was three buddies that tried to blow themselves up all the time. Well, that spun off to a show called Nitro Circus and then the Thrillbillies. What those were, were stuntmen that actually were stars of their show. So instead of being a guy that was Mel Gibson's guy killing himself, these stuntmen became the star and Cam McQueen was called Cowboy Cam. He was a Canadian and he was the guy that always did the dumbest of all this stuff.

Jon Velie: Now, what I learned in this was extraordinary, was that they were really planned.

Dave Kelso: Oh, sure.

Jon Velie: So they had things like, you ever see a Rodeo Poker or Cowboy Poker, where you got a bunch of guys that are sitting in the rodeo arena playing poker.

Dave Kelso: And there's a bull?

Jon Velie: There's a bull running, and the guy that's the last guy standing wins?

Dave Kelso: Right, that's nuts.

Jon Velie: We had one of those. The bull finally takes out the thing and the guy's standing there, and they have the clowns that are chasing the bulls around jumping in the thing. They did that.

Dave Kelso: And there's a visa for that, too?

Jon Velie: Well, there's a visa for anything that's extraordinary. Cam's group and Nitro Circus won awards. They won the equivalent of the kind of extreme Emmys or Grammies.

Dave Kelso: Does the Darwin Awards count at all?

Jon Velie: Well, it would except you'd be dead, right? No one ever wins a Darwin Award and survives.

Dave Kelso: Nobody's ever around to accept.

Jon Velie: Exactly. So that one was really cool because we got to really blend being great at stunts and being great as entertainers and the fame they got. He was also a monster truck driver. Cam was the first guy to ever do a back flip in a monster truck.

Dave Kelso: Oh my Lord.

Jon Velie: Well, and that's a significant thing.

Dave Kelso: I'm sure, that's extraordinary.

Jon Velie: It was really neat. They did some great movies, and one of them ends with, there's a bunch of motorcycles jumping over the top and then they had underneath them were these Baja cars, and in the very end comes a monster truck right between. Kind of imagine the British flag of motor vehicles.

Dave Kelso: Oh my goodness.

Jon Velie: So that was a lot of fun to do that. So the entertainers, he he could compete in monster trucks, which by the way, may be the silliest sport of all time.

Dave Kelso: Maybe.

Jon Velie: You're in a vehicle that's 10 feet off the ground.

Dave Kelso: Smashing things.

Jon Velie: Not powered by a regular engine, but like a jet engine. And then you're just getting in car wrecks.

Dave Kelso: Yes.

Jon Velie: I think they get paid this minimal amount of money.

Dave Kelso: Right, somebody thought that was a good idea.

Jon Velie: Then they fill these huge arenas, right?

Dave Kelso: Yes.

Jon Velie: It's great. It's been a lot of fun to work on those, which was really kind of a blend of entertainment and sports. So sometimes we get these creative cases.

Dave Kelso: Oh, that's a lot of fun. We're talking with Jon Velie. He's the CEO of OnlineVisas.com. Let's talk about some of the challenges you're facing these days, bringing arts and entertainers to the United States. I understand that H1B's numbers are down across the board. Are you seeing some of this sort of same impact with arts and entertainers?

Jon Velie: Absolutely. Immigration is hard, getting visas is hard right now, so we've just seen the threshold has been risen across the board on all of these things. Visas, strategies, evidence that would have worked are being questioned. The denials are more specific. The arguments have been made that if an award was won by multiple people, it shouldn't count as an award as opposed to just one. We won that one. But they've raised that. We've had some case law where two people won the Nobel Peace Prize, and then we also had another one where an Olympic gold medal for a relay race, all of them returning-

Dave Kelso: And they said the Nobel Prize was not good enough because they-

Jon Velie: Because they split it, right?

Dave Kelso: Oh my goodness.

Jon Velie: So we're seeing arguments like that and we're getting past them. But that's one that if you look at the language, they're saying you need to be in elite memberships, not just a membership.

Dave Kelso: So Mensa is not enough.

Jon Velie: Just one wouldn't be enough. You'd need to be in multiple ones. We're getting past those arguments. We're finding ways that these visas are being nitpicked and we have to get past them, right? And so there's a number of those.

Dave Kelso: Some of these arguments against seem a little ridiculous and seem a little frivolous. I mean, having to split the Nobel Peace Prize is a ridiculous response. Can you speculate on the point of some of these nitpicks?

Jon Velie: Well, we do a lot of thinking about this. Number one, we're playing chess, right?

Dave Kelso: Sure.

Jon Velie: When USCIS moves left, we move right. We're watching right now trends of everybody, right? We all, all immigration attorneys have the same opposing counsel. So immigration attorneys are pretty great at sharing information, and so we're learning how other people are being denied and approaches like that. We get together in conferences like AILA, American Immigration Lawyers Association. But you know, at the end of the day there was one thing that sort of dictates this policy change.

Jon Velie: Now, very few regulations have changed in the new presidency, even though it's been two years. It's just been a change of how they're adjudicating it, which is wrong and we're seeing a lot of litigation, right? People are suing attorneys and companies, and individuals are suing USCIS because they're abusing or violating the Agency Procedures Act, which is what agencies have to follow. You can't make arbitrary and capricious decisions, and they are, right? They're losing a lot of these lawsuits.

Jon Velie: But where I think it all stems is it went from the mantra of USCIS was that we are a nation of immigrants to we are protecting American jobs or America First, right? And that change in mantra is giving the power to the adjudicators to say, "I need to find a way to deny these cases to save jobs for Americans."

Dave Kelso: Well, that's 180 degrees from where we were thinking before.

Jon Velie: Instead of just adjudicating it and saying does this meet this? It's like how can we find ways to say no? Where's the got you, right?

Dave Kelso: Sounds more like an insurance company than an immigration department.

Jon Velie: Right, an insurance company will deny your claim so they don't have to pay you the money-

Dave Kelso: Exactly.

Jon Velie: ... that you've been paying in your whole life. Well, that's kind of what we're at, and it can be very frustrating because it's not just denials, it's increased requests for evidence which slows things down or just delays in the process.

Dave Kelso: And increases the cost for attorneys, for clients, and taxpayers as well.

Jon Velie: Imagine you're a producer, you're trying to bring in an artist for a specific show, and it's just not getting done in time. It may get approved, but then it's getting approved two months later. what are you going to do?

Dave Kelso: That doesn't help anybody.

Jon Velie: It doesn't.

Dave Kelso: That's Jon Velie. He's the CEO of OnlineVisas.com. I'm Dave Kelso. If somebody wanted to get ahold of you, if somebody wanted to bring their band, their art, their culture to the melting pot that is this country, how would we get ahold of you?

Jon Velie: Well, OnlineVisas.com is our website, and we're very, very proud of almost 2,000 visitors a day now, getting about 25 questions a day-

Dave Kelso: Excellent.

Jon Velie: ... for people looking for that. A lot of it is these great videos and podcasts we're doing is a lot of fun. People are watching that. We want them to subscribe-

Dave Kelso: Yes, please.

Jon Velie: ... like and share, that sort of thing. But you can call us 405-310-4333. You can email me directly, Jon, J-O-N, at velielaw.com, V-E-L-I-E-L-A-W.com. Love to talk to you, love to have a strategy session. These sort of anecdotes are a lot of fun for us, and love to work on your case if you have one.

Dave Kelso: Please be sure and subscribe to our YouTube channel. We are also on LinkedIn and Facebook. Thanks for watching the OnlineVisas.com: The Immigration Show.

Jon Velie: Enjoy your American dream.