The O-1 category is for individual artists or entertainers with “extraordinary ability” in their field. To show extraordinary ability, a foreign artist must prove to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) that he or she has “distinction” in the field, and is prominent. The standard for those in the motion picture or TV industry is higher. A movie or TV entertainer must show “a very high level of accomplishment” and “a degree of skill and recognition substantially above that ordinarily encountered”.

Foreign artists, especially actors and actresses, may have difficulty qualifying for the O-1 category. For example, an entertainer who had starring roles in TV productions and movies, and had an annual salary of $200,000, was denied O-1 status by the USCIS and lost on appeal as well. In another case, an actor had 12 years experience and had earned $150,000 from a single, made for TV movie, and had a supporting role in a major movie. In spite of these facts, the USCIS found that the actor did not have “extraordinary ability”.

On the other hand, USCIS found that a film star, comedian and musician from Romania did have extraordinary ability. He had received several nationally recognized awards in Romania, and had been critically reviewed by art critics in several countries. He had performed in artistic showcases, including the National Theater of Romania, and presented letters from the top Romanian artistic circles to show that he had performed in a leading and critical role for distinguished organizations.

The USCIS also found that a novelist, singer and composer from China had “extraordinary ability”. She had written a novel which became a classic and was translated into four other languages, and had been the recipient of several national awards in China. She sang at numerous showcases with other well-known singers. Her application was supported by art critics and well-known members of American performing art circles.

The P-1 category is for entertainment groups which are internationally recognized. An entertainment group may be as few as two persons. A group that is nationally recognized for a sustained and substantial period of time may obtain a waiver of the international recognition requirement if there are special circumstances.

The P-2 category is for individuals or groups of artists or entertainers who are part of a reciprocal exchange program in the United States and one or more foreign states. The P-3 category is for entertainment groups which are culturally
unique, which are coming to the U.S. to perform, teach or coach in a program which is culturally unique.

Fashion models of distinguished merit and ability may obtain H-1B visas, by showing that they are renowned, leading or well-known. Fashion models may also qualify under O-1 as extraordinary persons in business but not in the arts.