What visa to use for a music group or entertainer?

Q: My band would like to perform in the United States. Can we simply do this with tourist visas or is there a more appropriate visa?

A: If you perform at a concert in the United States, you would be considered a “U.S. worker” as you will be earning money, and that disqualifies you from using a tourist visa. Paid performances, or any professional performance before a paying audience, cannot be done on a simple visitor (tourist) visa. The more appropriate visas would be O-1, P-1, P-2, or P-3, depending on your situation.

• O-1:

The O-1 nonimmigrant visa is for an individual who possesses extraordinary ability in the sciences, arts, education, business, or athletics, or who has a demonstrated record of extraordinary achievement in the motion picture or television industry and has been recognized nationally or internationally for those achievements. More specifically, as a musician, you would fall under the O-1B category, which is for individuals with an extraordinary ability in the arts or extraordinary achievement in motion picture or television industry. The standards for extraordinary ability are very high, and you would have to show a high level of achievement in the field of the arts evidenced by a degree of skill and recognition substantially above that ordinarily encountered, and that you are renowned, leading, or well-known in your field of arts.

• P-1:

You may qualify for the P-1 if you are coming to the United States temporarily to perform as a member of an entertainment group that has been recognized internationally as outstanding in the discipline for a sustained and substantial period of time. For you to be eligible as a member of such a group, at least 75 percent of the members of your group must have had a substantial and sustained relationship with the group for at least one year. Similar to the high standards of the O-1 visa, the P-1 requires that your entertainment group must be internationally recognized, having a high level of achievement in a field evidenced by a degree of skill and recognition substantially above that ordinarily encountered. The reputation of the group, not the individual achievements of its members or the acclaim of a particular production, is critical.

• P-2:

The P-2 classification applies to you if you are coming temporarily to perform as an artist or entertainer, individually or as part of a group, who will perform under a reciprocal exchange program between an organization in the United States and an organization in another country. If your group is just looking to perform at a venue in the United States, this is probably not the category for you.

• P-3:

For a P-3 visa, you must be coming to the United States either individually or as a group for the purpose of developing, interpreting, representing, coaching, or teaching a unique or traditional ethnic, folk, cultural, musical, theatrical, or artistic performance or presentation. In addition, you must be coming to the United States to participate in a cultural event or events which will further the understanding or development of your art form. The purpose of this visa is to expose U.S. nationals to art or entertainment that is culturally unique. In order to prove that your music is culturally unique, you would need: (1) affidavits, testimonials or letters from recognized experts attesting to the authenticity of your or your group’s skills in performing, presenting, coaching or teaching the unique and traditional art forms and giving the credentials of the expert including the basis of his or her knowledge of your or your group’s skills OR (2) documentation that your or your group’s performance is culturally unique as evidenced by reviews in newspapers, journals or other published materials. Whether the P-3 is the right visa for you will therefore depend on where you are from, the type of music you play, your experience performing, etc.

Keep in mind that for both the O and the P visas, you need a sponsor to petition for you in the United States, which can be an agent, employer, or cultural/governmental/educational organization.

| Nonimmigrant