Like anyone else from outside the U.S., foreign celebrities are required to obtain a work visa before they can display their acclaimed talents in America. For actors, athletes and singers, the O1-A and O1-B visas are the applicable immigration visas needed to come to this country. These visas can be extended indefinitely.
O1-A for athletes
An O1-A visa applies to someone with extraordinary ability in athletics. This requirement is broadly interpreted, and the athlete can qualify by demonstrating receipt of an internationally recognized award, command of and/or a contract to command a high salary, and membership in an organization that requires outstanding achievement.
O1-B for entertainers
Actors, singers or anyone involved in the entertainment field have to apply for the O1-B visa that requires extraordinary ability in motion picture or TV productions. The applicant must evidence achievement of at least three criteria. These include receipt of national or international recognition, recognition for achievement from critics or other experts in their field, performance in or having starred in a lead role for a distinguished organization, performance in or a contract to perform as a starring participant for a production or organization with a distinguished reputation, have recorded a record with commercial or critical acclaim, and commanded or will command a high salary.
P-1 for specific events
A P-1 visa is also available for internationally recognized athletes and entertainers to enter the U.S. for a specific event, competition or performance. They are able to stay and work in the U.S. for five years and up to 10 years with extensions.
Even if an entertainer meets all of this criteria, the person’s political views can disqualify them or result in deportation by the INS. John Lennon of the Beatles was in the U.S. on a one-month visa in 1972 when his request for an extension was denied and the INS began deportation proceedings against him. Lennon had been making plans for an anti-war concert tour, which he had to cancel.
Cat Stevens was a very popular singer in the 1970s when he suddenly converted to Islam in 1977 and changed his name to Yusuf Islam. In 1989 he called for the death of Salman Rushdie after the publication of the The Satanic Verses. After an absence of 33 years and at least one denied entry in 2004, he was finally granted a visa in 2009 to perform in Los Angeles. The singer has also been recognized for his considerable charity work.