What You Should Know About Employment Visas in the Arts Amid COVID-19

By Fei Wang (ARAD ‘21)

Given the current COVID-19 circumstances, what are some opportunities and challenges for international students in their post-graduation period? In a recent webinar co-hosted by ARAD and TC Alumni Relations, Rakhel Milstein, founder and CEO of the Milstein Law Group discussed some important types of employment visas in the arts for international students. She was joined by ARAD alumna Alexis Yuen (‘16) who moderated the question period afterward. (You can watch the full webinar here.)


The webinar focuses on the O-1 and H-1B visa options for international students who want to seek temporary employment after obtaining a graduate degree in arts administration and other arts areas. Here are some of the key takeaways from the webinar. Please note: due to COVID-19, the following may change. It is important to consult with an immigration lawyer to understand the latest regulations. 


  1. The O-1 visa, which is for people with extraordinary abilities, is one of the best options for foreign nationals in the arts. Many arts administrators overlook this category because it’s described as being based on “extraordinary ability” in the arts, sciences, athletics, business, education, or extraordinary achievement in the motion picture and television industry. However, this is a visa category that can also be applied to arts administrators. Different from the H-1B visa that has a quota each year, the O-1 is a three-year visa and doesn’t have an annual quota and therefore can be applied if the H-1B quota for the year has already been filled. 


O-1 Visa Requirements:

  • US petitioner
    • An employer or an individual acting as your agent for the O-1 visa petition
  • Proof of future work offers
  • Evidence of extraordinary ability
    • Demonstrating at least three of the following six categories:
      • Has and will perform a lead or starring role in productions or events which have a distinguished reputation
      • National or international recognition
      • Has and will perform in a lead, starring, or critical role for organizations and establishments that have a distinguished reputation
      • Commercial or critically acclaimed successes
      • Significant recognition for achievements from organizations, critics, government agencies or other recognized experts in the field
      • A high salary or other substantial remuneration for services to others in the field
    • Records for the O-1 Evidence
      • Published reviews of your work, performances, exhibitions, etc 
      • Your published work in your field
      • Evidence of any awards or prizes for work in your field
      • Letters of recommendation from experts in your field
      • Programs, playbills, or advertisements evidencing your role in performances
      • Box office receipts, ore record, cassette, compact disk, or video sales
  • Letters of recommendation


It’s important to build your case to prove your achievements by preparing the materials above for a successful O-1 visa application. There is no disadvantage of applying for an O-1 visa outside of the U.S., and the applicant can take the time to reach out to contacts and get as much evidence as possible. An immigration lawyer can discuss how your experience as an arts administrator would fit the above criteria.


  1. H-1B is a work visa for occupations that require at least a bachelor’s degree or its equivalent in a specific specialty as a minimum for entry into the field. For this type of visa, the types of degree and employer (nonprofits vs. for-profits) matter, and a specific salary is required as well. 


H-1 Requirements: 

  • Job offer from an employer that will sponsor visa including paying all immigration fees
  • Bachelor’s degree or equivalent in a major closely related to H-1B position
  • H-1B petition must be filed with USCIS by April 1st to be authorized to work in the following October
  • There are an additional 20,000 available for positions requiring a master’s degree and some additional narrow exemptions. 


The H-1B visa has an annual quota of 65,000 H-1B spots every year for for-profit companies and organizations. For people who obtain a master’s degree from a US institution, there are additional 20,000 spots. Given this limitation on the number of H-1Bs, there is a lottery every year to process the H-1B visa application. 


However, many arts organizations and other nonprofits organizations may qualify for the H-1B exemption, which means you don’t need to enter into the lottery to apply for the H-1B visa. Each organization would have their specific policies in terms of sponsoring H-1Bs, and it is important to know their hiring policies in advance. 


Both the O-1 and H-1B visas provide opportunities for international students to work in the U.S., while they have different requirements that we should be aware of and make plans accordingly. O-1 visa might broaden the opportunities for people in the arts who can demonstrate extraordinary achievements. It’s key to build our portfolio well in advance to make the application process as successful as possible with objective evidence. 


Both Rakhel and Alexis stressed the importance of being prepared for the visa application process well in advance. You can find more information about immigration law or connect with lawyers specializing in this field on the Milstein Law Group website as well as the Center for Art Law