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Legal Do’s, Don’ts and Visa Tips for Touring Musicians

Planning a U.S. tour? Your checklist might look something like this:

Flights booked
Tour bus booked
Gigs booked
Merchandise packed
??? Visas sorted

Though the U.S. immigration system can seem like a maze, with sufficient time and planning, the American dream does not have to turn into a visa nightmare.

An established practice specializing in immigration law, McEntee Law Group has helpful advice for musicians touring the United States. Fiona McEntee and Raymond McEntee are from Dublin originally; Fiona is a U.S. attorney and Raymond is a U.S. attorney and an Irish/UK solicitor.’

They started MusicVisas.com to offer advice and visa services to those in the entertainment industry and expanded their practice to include a satellite office in Dublin.

Here is a brief introduction to U.S. visas and do’s and don’ts for artists and bands considering U.S. tours.

P-1 Visa
The appropriate visa for bands.

Basic Overview + Requirements

  • Coming to the U.S. temporarily to perform as a member of an entertainment group.
  • Group must be internationally recognized — a degree of skill substantially above that normally encountered.
  • Group has been recognized internationally as outstanding in the discipline for a sustained and substantial period of time.
  • At least 75% of the group has been performing with the group for at least one year.
  • Group achievements, as opposed to that of the individual members, are recognized.
  • Evidence of achievements would include, but are not limited to, critically acclaimed albums or singles, top chart placements, reviews and write-ups in prominent magazines, previous shows in prestigious venues, playing at high-profile festivals.
  • Duration of the P-1 visa is for the time needed to complete the event/tour/ performance not to exceed 1 year.
  • Support crew will need a P-1S visa to travel with the band.

P-3 Visa
The appropriate visa for “culturally unique” artists or performers.

Basic Overview + Requirements

  • Coming to the U.S. temporarily to perform individually or as a member of a culturally unique entertainment group.
  • Participating in a cultural event(s) which will further the understanding or development of your art form.
  • Culturally unique art forms include, but are not limited to: Irish dancing, traditional Irish music, Irish art, Irish storytelling and poetry.
  • Performance can be either commercial or noncommercial.
  • Duration of the P-3 visa is for the time needed to complete the event/tour/performance is not to exceed one year.

Support crew will need a P-3S visa to travel with the band.

O-1 Visa
The O-1 visa is the appropriate visa for individual performers or solo artists. While the standard for an O-1 visa is higher than that of the P-1 visa, the O-1 visa can be the only option for solo artists wishing to perform in the States.

Basic Overview + Requirements

  • Coming to the U.S. temporarily to perform individually.
  • The individual possesses extraordinary ability in the arts.
  • The individual has demonstrated a record of extraordinary achievement and nationally or internationally recognized for those achievements.
  • There are six evidentiary requirements, three of which must be met in order to be eligible for the O-1 visa.
  • Maximum duration of an O-1 visa is three years.
  • Support crew will need an O-2 visa to travel with the band.

General Do’s and Don’ts

Do’s

  • Consult with an experienced immigration attorney prior to planning a U.S. tour.
  • Make your visa a priority—visas can take several months to process, so give 
yourself adequate time to obtain the required visa.
  • Disclose any and all prior criminal arrests and convictions (including minor drug 
offenses, such as marijuana possession) to your immigration attorney.
  • Disclose any previous immigration violations, including any brief overstays to 
your immigration attorney.
  • Make sure your manager books or secures U.S. performances prior to applying for your visa. Email correspondence with the venue should suffice.
  • Ensure that your manager has put together a draft itinerary, as this is needed for the visa application.
  • Discuss how to flesh out your itinerary with your immigration attorney, such as promotional time, rehearsal time etc., so as to obtain the maximum amount of time on your visa.
  • Make yourself aware of the parameters of the Visa Waiver Program (ESTA) and the B visitor visa as these should not be a substitute for the appropriate working visa.
  • Try to keep track of all entries/exits to and from the U.S.
  • If touring internationally on a consistent basis, discuss with your attorney potentially getting a second passport from your home country.
  • Ensure that your passport is valid for at least six months beyond the requested end date of your visa.
  • Keep electronic copies of passport biographical pages, previous visa stamps, previous performances and press coverage so as to ensure efficient preparation of your visa application.

Don’ts

  • Overstay the 90 days if traveling on the Visa Waiver Program/ESTA. Even one day of overstay will make you ineligible for travel on this program in the future.
  • Wait until the final hour to begin the visa process. If considering performing in the States, determining the most appropriate visa type and commencing the application should be a priority and not a just a mere afterthought.
  • Fail to disclose any prior immigration or criminal violations to your attorney.
  • Forget about backing musicians and crew, as they will need their own supporting visas.

Disclaimer: 
The information provided in this guide is intended for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. Please contact McEntee Law Group directly for legal advice specific to your situation.