FAQS FOR ACQUIRING H1B OR O1 VISA

Getting a work visa to work in the United States is not a simple process and is a time consuming one. That said, because the market in the United States is a massive one that caters to different genres of fashion from high fashion runway to commercial and lifestyle work. There are lots of opportunities for all types of models to work in the United States and if you sign with a sizable agency that handles international models, they will be able to sponsor you for a work visa.

Since both Brooke and myself have gone through the process ourselves, we have put together some FAQs for all whom might be curious how to apply for and get a work visa for the United States.

We have also answered some questions for people who are currently on a work visa and would like to renew it or know more about it, as there are many restrictions that may or may not have been made known to you that we think you might benefit from knowing. 

How do I get a work visa to model in the USA?

The first thing you need to know is that you can’t get a work visa to work in the USA as a model unless you find an agency to employ you/sponsor you for the visa. The sponsor has to be a model agency with a branch that is based in the USA. That will be your sole employer when you file for a visa. During the time that you are in the USA, you must only work with this agency. Agencies will often make you sign a contract before they will offer to sponsor you for a visa.

How do I meet with a US agency?

If you are interested in meeting with a US agency, have your agency from your mother country contact them on your behalf and send your book and information to them to see if they would be interested in having you work for them. Alternatively you could book a flight as a tourist to the US and meet with agencies in person.

Note: you cannot work for any agency even if they are willing to sign you unless you file for a visa and are granted permission to work in the US so if you are signed you will have to leave the country, apply for your papers and then reenter the US when your visa is approved.

I have an agency that’s interested in me and wants to sponsor me for a visa. What do I do next? 

Congratulations! If you sign with an agency and they have agreed to sponsor you for a visa they may suggest an immigration attorney that they use to help you file a petition for a work visa. The visa they will suggest you file for will be classified as a non immigrant temporary work visa, in either a H1-B Visa or O1 Visa class. You can find out the details of these visas by visiting http://travel.state.gov/visa/temp/types/types_1286.html

It is a lot easier to work with an in house immigration attorney so if your agency has one, that is the best route to go. If they do not have one that they use, you might want to find your own. Always use a reputable immigration attorney recommended by your agency. If they don’t have one, you can find one online but ask first if they work with your specific kind of visa and have worked with models before. You want to work with the attorney that has experience in model visas because its a different process to applying for other kinds of visas.

What kind of materials do I need to file for a H1-B or O1 model visa? 

Because the US market is so competitive, the US only grants model visas to models who can prove their extraordinary merit and value to the industry at large. It makes sense; they only want to let the best models into the country because those models will be competing against and possibly taking jobs away from American born models.

If you are a new model or an inexperienced one, you might not be able to prove your extraordinary merit just yet, and in this case you would best refrain from applying to work in the US until such time as you can prove you are because it is really difficult to get a H1-B or O Visa if you can’t provide concrete proof to immigration that you have an extraordinary career. That said, don’t be shy if you are an experienced model and do have the following materials…

You will need a color copy of a valid passport plus copies of any previous US Visas plus at least 40 or 50 tear sheets from past jobs and 10 letters of recommendation from people that you have worked for who would recommend you as a model of extraordinary talent. You will also need to provide a white I-94 card if you are already in the USA on a travel or another kind of work visa.

Note: the tear sheets can be from catalogs, brochures, magazines, print jobs, images from shows and stills from commercial work you have done. If you have any media that has been written about you with your photograph or any editorials you have been featured in these are great tare sheets to include. The more tears you can dig up and provide for your immigration attorney, the stronger case they will be able to build around you being of extraordinary talent and value to the industry in the US.

For the 10 letters of recommendation, it is best to include letters from your agencies around the world, photographers you have shot with, clients you have worked for, editors of magazines and people as such who are of a high industry standing that would recommend you on their behalf.

I have some tears, but I don’t have many… so should I include test shoots in my petition? Also, I have copies of my work but not the actual tare. Can I include those shots? 

It isn’t advisable to include test shoots because these don’t qualify as actual work. It’s also advisable to use the actual final copies of your work. However, sometimes its tough to stay on top of getting tares. If the test shoot or copy was a submission for a job or was used in a magazine publication/campaign you can include it as a tear if you state the photographer who shot it and what it was submitted for or published in, even if you don’t have the actual final copy.

This is why it is ALWAYS KEEP TRACK OF YOUR TARES AND COLLECT THEM. It will help with applying for work visas in any country and especially in the case of applying for a work visa for the US.

Ok so I have all my materials. What’s the damage for a work visa?

A H1-B visa will cost you approximately between $1500 – $3000 to file with an in house immigration attorney, depending on whether you expedite the process or not.

An O1 visa will cost you the same amount or slightly more, if the attorney has to spend more time working on your case or had any difficulty in demonstrating your extraordinary ability during the petition process.

The immigration attorney will file a “petition” for a visa for you. The fee to file a petition will cost around $2000USD. The cost to file is broken down for you here http://redbus2us.com/h1b-visa-2013-filing-fee-should-you-pay-for-h1b-cost/

When filing, you can opt to have the visa process expedited for an actual fee (approximately an extra $1225USD). This will help to get you a US work visa in two to four weeks. If you don’t opt for an expedited petition you may wait for up to six months to hear back from the powers that be so it is worth the extra expense.

How long does it take to get approved/denied?

It can take two months to up to six months to a full year get approved or denied for a work visa. It really depends on what time of year you apply, what state you apply in and how many people have applied for the same visa.

Also…there is a possibility you might not be able to apply for a visa due to the cap for visas running out.

What is the visa “cap”? 

Every year the US government approved a quota of visas for every country. This is called a “cap”. Just like a phone cap, when the “cap” is reached, no more visas are allowed to be approved. So, if you apply for a visa after the cap is reached for that year, you may have to wait until the next year to apply for a visa. You can find out when the cap is reached by visiting … which will tell you when the cap for the year has maxed and when the new quota of visa is released.

Immigration is asking for further information about my petition?

That is a good thing. This means your application has not been denied or approved of. Often this happens when the powers that be need to verify your demand. Your agency will have to provide additional information to your attorney to support your case.

What happens if my visa petition gets denied?

There are many reasons why an application could get denied. It’s not always your fault. Your attorney might not have been able to substantiate your claim of “Extraordinary status” with enough proof or the officer who was working through your petition might have been having a bad day. The bummer about the way the process goes is, you won’t know what happened exactly; the powers that be will just inform you that your petition was denied.

It happens. In life, when you are disappointed by an opportunity that doesn’t evolve, the best thing to do is put it behind you and celebrate the new path that this disappointment might now lead to. Focus your energies on pursuing another market or file again at another time.

Once you get approved what happens?

Yay you’ve been approved. Now you will receive an “approval notice” in the mail from immigration. This is not a visa. Once you have this petition notice you still have to apply for a visa and take an interview at a US consulate in your home country or in any approved third country outside the USA. For info on US consulates please visit ….

How do I apply for the US visa with my peitition approval notice? 

You will need to fill out a Non immigrant Visa form called a DS-160 before you can get an appointment at a consulate. To fill out the form you will need passport photographs and passport information. The website for more info is https://ceac.state.gov/genniv/

When you fill out the DS-160 form you will submit your photographs digitally for review. If these photographs pass, the website will approve your form and give you an application number. You will need that application number to get a consulate interview.

The next step in the process is to visit the webpage for the US consulate that you will be interviewing at. This might be in your home country or in a country other than your home country that is approved by the US Department of State for visa applications. Follow the instructions that the website gives you and make an appointment for an interview for a Nonimmigrant Visa. Note there will be additional fees and instructions on what to bring to the interview listed.

Once you have the consulate interview you must remember to arrive on time to your interview, prepared to answer any work related questions with your petition notice, portfolio and passport.

What happens at the consulate interview?

The interview at the consulate is a final step in the visa application process. It is there to check that you are a working model and not some random that is trying to enter the country on a work visa. It is advisable to come dressed professional, ready to answer questions about your career and remember to bring all of your materials with you that the consulate has requested.

If your visa application interview is successful they will take your passport for a day or two and put a visa inside of it with your photograph attached. You pay an extra fee to put this visa in your passport that is around $200-300 depending on the consulate visa fees in your country. 

I have my visa and I am working in the US as a model, can I work for multiple agencies?

No. You must work exclusively with the agency that sponsored you for a visa.

Friends of mine have kindly offered me a side job while I am working as a model in the USA. Can I take a side job on a H1-B visa or O-1 visa?

No. Contrary to what you might have heard or the people you know who have followed this route, its not legal to work in any other profession if you are on a work visa for modelling. Since you have proven to the US government that you make enough money to consider yourself extraordinary talent, you are not allowed to work in another occupation on this visa. If you want to work in another field, you will need to forfeit your model work visa and find a different sponsor/apply for another class or type of work visa.

Can I study while on a work visa in the USA?

Yes you can but you may need to apply for a student visa in order to be considered for a placement in a college in the USA. For private institutions you do not need a special visa to sign up for a course.

What do I do when my visa expires?

Please do not overstay your visa. Overstaying a visa means staying in the USA longer than the date your visa expires. It is advisable to extend/renew your visa 6 months prior to expiry just to ensure that you can remain and work in the USA. To extend your visa you will need similar material to the material you needed to apply for it. Please consult your attorney for more information when the time comes. Most H1-B and O-1 class non immigrant visas need to be renewed every three years and can sometimes only be renewed twice.

A final note…

If you are a model considering working in the United States please note that you have to invest a significant amount of time and due care in preparing the materials to get a visa. It doesn’t happen overnight nor is it something you can approach in a lazy fashion…so plan accordingly and prepare thoroughly. Take adequate time to prepare your materials for the petition. Book your flights AFTER you receive the petition notice approval or are issued your visa in your passport. Finally, remember that once you apply for the visa you need to wait before your petition is approved before you are allowed to enter and work under a work visa.

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