Year after year, the United States tops international polls for the #1 desired destination for immigrants. While immigration paths may be somewhat clear for students or people who work in highly desirable fields, such as medicine or technology, those who work in creative careers may wonder if there are any options when looking to migrate.
Ashkan Emami — an Immigration Attorney with Path Law Group who specializes in the immigration needs of creatives — says there is hope for those whose careers fall outside the ones typically in demand. “The main challenge creatives face is determining which visa they are eligible for,” Emami explains. “The US immigration system is very complex, and finding accurate information can be quite difficult. Once a creative professional determines their visa eligibility, they can work with an experienced attorney to execute an effective immigration strategy.”
Discovering which visa(s) one is eligible for can be a daunting task, but Emami’s team has become intimately familiar with the labyrinthian US immigration system and has helped many of their clients successfully gain legal entry to the country.
Visas for creatives
There are several visas for creative entrepreneurs and workers in particular. Although they are not as often utilized as, say, the F-1 academic visa, they can be counted on to give creative people a pathway to legal employment and residency within the US.
The O-1 visa, for example, is for persons with “extraordinary abilities in arts, entertainment, athletics, sciences, business and education.” This visa covers a number of professionals, including writers, actors, singers, and even athletes. To qualify to immigrate under this visa, your employment must be related to your “extraordinary abilities.”
The P-1 entertainment visa is similar, but is used for non-immigration purposes for creatives who wish to enter the country for a specific event.
The visas for creatives can be challenging to obtain, but not completely impossible. Emami and his team have built years of experience helping people create strong applications that prove their abilities and showcase what their talents can add to the American experience.
Many notable people have immigrated under the O-1 visa over the years, including Albert Einstein, David Beckham, Lily Allen, and John Oliver. The star-studded list of visa recipients shouldn’t deter lesser-known folks from applying, however. As Emami says, “It’s all a matter of building a strong case and supporting your work.”
Building a case for immigration
Emami’s approach with clients is to help them build the necessary strong case for acceptance. “I always advise planning ahead and getting in touch with an experienced lawyer early on in the process,” he says.
While people are welcome to apply to immigrate on their own, the process and steps necessary to apply can be challenging. Having a professional with vast experience in navigating the system — especially for one’s specific immigration stream — can give one a definite leg up in the process.
Emami suggests his clients build a collection of information that bolsters their claim of “extraordinary” creative abilities. “It helps immensely to keep detailed records of prior work, including contracts, accolades, press articles, and awards,” he explains. Anything and everything that one can include in their application is helpful in determining if they qualify for the creative immigration stream, often referred to as the “artists” visa.
Emami also suggests working on building a network within the United States. Often, creative visas are used for those already in the US working in a creative field. The immigration office of the United States wants proof that creatives can support themselves through their creative careers once they are in the United States.
Challenges creatives face
The path of a creative visa immigrant can be wildly different from that of other immigrants. Their acceptance hinges entirely on their creative abilities and willingness to lay their creative work at the feet of the immigration department in hopes that they will be found worthy.
Still, creative careers are often not given the same respect or acceptance as careers such as medicine or technology because they are frequently not perceived as “essential.” That factor alone can make immigration under this stream an uphill battle.
To qualify and gain acceptance through the O-1 visa, you must prove you are among the best in your field. Therefore, it is likely not a great option for someone who dabbles in art on the side or has a side hustle as a photographer on the weekends — this visa is for elite creatives, which makes it a difficult visa to obtain — but all hope is not lost. Emami and his team at Path Law Group have made it their mission to help as many creatives and entrepreneurs as possible realize their immigration dreams.
“While the US does have a rigorous screening process, our approval rates for creatives are very high,” says Emami. “I believe the US immigration system is quite fair, and if you are a creative who has achieved some level of distinction in your field, your probability of success is strong.”