The O-1 nonimmigrant visa is for individuals who possess extraordinary ability in the sciences, arts, education, business, or athletics, or who have a demonstrated record of extraordinary achievement in the motion picture or television industry and has been recognized nationally or internationally for those achievements. For more information about O-1 petitions, please click here.

Specifically, the O-1B visa is for the individuals who possess extraordinary ability in the arts or extraordinary achievement in motion picture or television industry. Two O-1B criteria that are commonly applicable to many cases are the criteria concerning one’s lead role. These two criteria are as follows:

  • You have performed and will perform services as a lead or starring participant in productions or events which have a distinguished reputation as evidenced by critical reviews, advertisements, publicity releases, publications, contracts or endorsements
  • You have performed and will perform in a lead, starring, or critical role for organizations and establishments that have a distinguished reputation as evidenced by articles in newspapers, trade journals, publications, or testimonials.

There are two parts of these criteria, one concerns the nature of the role (“lead”, “starring”, “critical”), and the other part concerns whether the productions events and/or organizations are of “distinguished reputation”. We will discuss these two parts separately in further detail below.

What is Lead, Starring, Critical Role?

Although there are bodies of decisions from the Administrative Appeals Board debating the meaning of these terms, the regulations do not specifically define what it means to perform in a lead, starring or critical role. However, from our extensive experience in dealing with numerous cases, we have found that the parameters of what can be defined as a lead, starring or critical role is fairly broad.

Often, many people work on projects that involve working as part of a team. If such is the case and you were the manager of the team, head of a department or a CEO of a company, it is fairly clear-cut to present evidence by virtue of the title of the role itself that it was a lead role. However, if you were a member of a team where you were solely in charge of a specific task, for example, you were placed in charge of the concept design of an architectural design project, then it is arguable that you played a lead role in the project, even if you were not necessarily the team leader or manager of the project. Many projects that involve a group of people working together as a team have specific roles and duties to perform, with each member of the group performing a critically essential component of the project. In such cases, each member can arguably be deemed as performing a lead, starring and/or critical role for the project. This would be a different case if, let’s say, there were multiple members performing exactly the same role within the team, in which case it would not qualify for this criteria unless you are able to present evidence to show how your role can be differentiated as a leading one from the others performing the same role. An easy way to think about whether you qualify for these criteria would be to determine whether the project could have been completed (and succeeded) without your role within the team. If you were the starring subject of a project, for example, you were a model for a cover shoot for Vogue Magazine, then naturally, you can be deemed as a lead or starring participant in the production, however, if you were part of a group of models for the cover shoot, you may have to produce evidence (usually in the form of a testimonial letter from an expert) to show why you were the lead or starring participant in the cover shoot (for example, you were the center model with only your name featured on the magazine cover). Another example would be if are a fine artist and you held a group exhibition, in which case you would have to explain how your role can be differentiated as a lead or starring one, as opposed to a solo exhibition, in which case it is clear that your role in the solo exhibition was a lead or starring one in nature. Another example is where you might be a theater actor performing on a Broadway show, but there were a number of different actors performing the same role on alternating nights.

More often than not, if the production or event that you starred in was a major project that can be considered an important one for the overarching organization, it can easily be argued that not only was your role a lead or starring one for the production, but also a critical one for the organization itself. If you only participated in one production, USCIS can, at times, push back, stating how participating in only one production for the organization can deem your role as lead, starring or critical in nature for the organization. As such, it is important to include evidence for at least more than one and ideally a number of productions as evidence for the organization criteria

What is Distinguished Reputation?

The second part of these criteria involve determining whether the productions/events and organizations that you performed work for are of “distinguished reputation”. Again, the regulations do not provide a specific definition as to what it means to possess such a reputation, however, the Administrative Appeals Board decisions indicate a fairly generic dictionary definition of the phrase.

In order to establish evidence to prove the distinguished reputation, you should start with the lowest hanging fruit, which are usually awards. If the productions and/or the organizations that you worked for has won any awards, then this is usually a strong indicator of distinguished reputation. However, if there are no awards, there are other forms of recognitions that can help towards establishing distinguished reputation. These may include items such as press articles in mainstream media outlets, any major clients who themselves possess distinguished reputation, the scale of a project as determined by its revenue size, and various other ways.

In determining your eligibility for these criteria, it is important that you gather the necessary evidence and be able to determine whether the evidence will be useful towards establishing your lead, starring and/or critical role in productions and organizations of distinguished reputation.  For more information about what kinds of evidentiary documentation is required, please click here.

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