As many of you already know, Stillmotion has Canadian roots.
Our company began in Toronto, and opened a U.S. branch office in San Francisco, which we recently relocated to our new home in Portland, Oregon.
We get questions all the time from filmmakers and photographers who are also looking to come to the US to work.
You’ll be happy to know that it’s not really as difficult as you might think.
Our friend Marla Schechter is a U.S. Immigration Lawyer who helps people get their work Visa in the U.S. all the time, in fact she’s handled all of Stillmotion’s visas since 2008 — all you’ve got to do is prove you’re extraordinary. And since you are extraordinary, that shouldn’t be too difficult.
We asked Marla to write a guest post that outlines the most common types of evidence filmmakers and photographers use when petitioning for their US work visas.
If you have questions for Marla, you can contact her at email@example.com
Five Ways To Prove You’re Extraordinary and Get A US Work Visa
by Marla Schechter
U.S. Immigration Lawyer
It seems that every artist I ever came across in Canada felt that his career would really flourish if only he could work legally in the United States. Given the size and prominence of the U.S. market, for artists who have achieved some level of prominence in Canada or any other country, working in the U.S. really is the next logical step in their careers.
What many artists don’t know is that this dream is absolutely obtainable.
The appropriate visa type for artists, including photographers and cinematographers, is the O-1B visa, for Extraordinary Ability Aliens. To qualify for an O-1 visa, the beneficiary must demonstrate extraordinary ability by sustained national or international acclaim and must be coming temporarily to the United States to continue work in the area of “extraordinary ability.”
When your “extraordinary ability” is in the arts, the USCIS has this to say:
Extraordinary ability in the field of arts means distinction. Distinction means a high level of achievement in the field of the arts evidenced by a degree of skill and recognition significantly above that ordinarily encountered to the extent that a person described as prominent is renowned, leading, or well-known in the field of arts.
The USCIS has suggested several categories of evidence that may be used in proving that an individual (that’s you) indeed possesses extraordinary ability in the arts. The applicant must either prove that he has received or been nominated for the highest prize or award in his field (like an Emmy, Grammy, Academy Award, etc.), *or* three of seven categories of evidence listed.
For the full list and other related info, see the USCIS’s list under Evidentiary Criteria for O-1B:
I won’t be discussing all of the possible categories of evidence listed by the USCIS, but rather the five types of evidence that have been most instrumental to my clients in getting their petitions approved.
1. Published material by or about you in major publications.
Since the O-1 applicant must have a distinguished reputation in his or her field, it seems almost essential that his work, or an article written by or about the applicant, has appeared in major publications (print or digital). Anyone whose photographs have appeared in more than a few publications should satisfy this category’s requirements.
For example, if you’ve ever been interviewed and had it published in a magazine or website, that interview or published piece of some kind about you and your work would fall under this category and therefore qualify as a valid piece of evidence.
2. Having received significant recognition for achievements.
An excellent and fairly easily obtained type of evidence that absolutely ALL of my O-1 applicants submit, is some letters extolling their virtues, written by people in a position of authority in their industries.
An executive of a company you have worked with, an editor of a magazine which has published your work, or anyone in a position of authority who is familiar with your work can write such a letter.
3. High salary.
Since data is often unavailable in an applicant’s particular niche area within the industry, in a pinch, authorities’ opinions about how a particular O-1 applicant has been paid relative to his industry colleagues can be relied upon to establish this criterion. For this reason, a type of evidence that almost always appears in my clients’ petitions is commanding a high salary.
Your foreign agent or manager may write a letter confirming your salary, you can provide a copy of your contract, or other pieces of formal evidence that prove your salary will work for this category. Of course, online wage surveys may also be used.
4. Having received awards or prizes in your field.
Prizes lesser than major awards like Emmys do not *specifically* make up part of the USCIS’s list.
However, you should include any awards you’ve received in the petition nonetheless, as they do help give an impression that you’re highly accomplished.
Also, depending on one’s particular artistic field, there may not be a significant national or international award available. If you submitted your material and won an award through a magazine, blog, or photographic association contest, that is evidence that can be used in filing an O-1 petition.
5. Performing in a leading or critical role for organizations with a distinguished reputation.
Anyone who has held a position of importance on a production with a company of national stature should qualify here.
For example, an event cinematographer who has been hired by a television network or well-known production company to film an event or show would qualify. A cinematographer or photographer who makes a promotional film or photo shoot for a well-known company to help it advertise its products or services would also qualify here.
Another example in this category would be a filmmaker contracted by a well-known camera equipment company to engage in a speaking tour sponsored by that company.
You’re extraordinary, now prove it…
Remember, unless you’ve won a major award like an Emmy, you’ll need to provide three pieces of evidence in order to get your work visa in the US. It’s difficult to articulate the minimum acceptable level of accomplishment required for O-1B approval, but anyone interested in my opinion is welcome to send me his/her resume for my review.
Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org