Visas for Hairdressing Work in the USA

by sophieh / last updated January 2, 2019

Is now the time to consider looking overseas for a new beginning. It’s hard to know where to beginning when you take your first step. Amanda Gillespie, from Amanda Gillespie Inc, an agency which specialises in securing visas for performers and hairdressers, looks at the most frequently asked questions.

I’ve often thought about moving to America and I’ve heard about the O-1 working visa for people of ‘extraordinary ability’ like famous celebrity stylists or movie stars. A colleague told me that hairdressers can apply for this visa. Is this true?

The O-1 visa is for ‘people of extraordinary ability’. It’s for artists like hairdressers, make-up artists, designers and musicians, but also for business people, athletes or scientists.

While the term ‘extraordinary ability’ can seem daunting or unattainable, many more people qualify for this visa than you might think.

Alternatively, there is the O-2, which is an assistant visa for someone who works with an O-1 holder.

What do I need to qualify for the O-1 visa?

If you’re working on photo shoots, then the case rests almost entirely on the number of tear-sheets you can compile; if you have upwards of 40, then you’re in a good place to consider this visa.

Even better is any press you have had no matter how big or small. If you’re doing salon work, you would need to give evidence of a celebrity client list and, ideally, press coverage on the salon that you work at.

If I go to the US it will be because I want to freelance and work with as many different people as possible. Is the O-1 a freelance visa?

There is no such thing as a freelance visa. The O-1 comes closest because it acknowledges the possibility of you having an agent as a sponsor as opposed to a full-time employer, and with an agent as a sponsor you can, of course, work with multiple clients.

I don’t have a US sponsor. Can I file for the visa without one?

A US sponsor (an employer or agent) is a necessary ingredient of the visa process. Often, hairdressers start the visa process and look for a sponsor at the same time.

The issue is a key one because having the visa can, in many cases, make it a little easier to connect to a sponsor: you’re that much further along in the process and so preparation and filing time become less of an issue.

Don’t let this put you off, as there are other options for people who qualify for the O-1 but can’t find a sponsor Stateside.

If I’m not ready, what can I do to eventually qualify for the visa?

The government grants O-1 eligibility by a point system – your ability to qualify comes down to how many categories of evidence you can submit with your case.

There are seven of these categories in total, and the O-1 requires you fulfill a minimum of three.

The sort of evidence that might satisfy the visa includes press on you or your projects; evidence of your participation in productions like fashion shoots or runway shows; letters from experts within your field; and your ability to charge high prices for your expertise or proof of teaching.

I think it would be exciting to work as a hairstylist in New York or Los Angeles but I currently work for myself and I’d want to do the same in the US. What are my options?

There is an investor visa (the E), which allows you to incorporate or set up your own business so you can work for yourself in the USA, but it carries a price tag – $100,000 or more.

However, the O-1 does allow you to have your own business sponsor your own visa.

I heard that British citizens automatically get a three-month visa. Surely I can work with this?

British citizens are able to enter the US on three-month tourist waiver but that waiver does not allow you to work.

This same waiver may be used for business purposes, but you still can’t receive money or payment from a US company.

Many artists use the waiver to pop in and out of America for a while. Check out the scene and make contacts, but overuse – coming into the country too frequently could lead to an unpleasant conversation at customs.

The waiver is discretionary, and if an agent thinks you’re abusing it by working illegally, you could be refused entry.

If you’re serious about working in the US, the waiver might allow you in for a short while, but you’d do well to start thinking about a proper employment visa sooner rather than later.

The consequences for working illegally are harsh and could bar you from returning to the US.

Do I have to live full time in America? I just want to be able to work in the US a few times a year for fashion week and shoots. Can I do that on an O-1 visa?

While the greencard does require a minimum residency, the O-1 does not. I have photographer clients who come into America about six times a year, sometimes for only a few days to cover their shoots.

The visa can be well worth it if you need to travel with a lot of equipment and you worry about getting past customs. Customs officials are well within their rights to deny you entry if they think you are planning to work and you haven’t got the correct visa.

Does the O-1 visa entitle me to work in America forever?

Unlike many other visas, there’s no limitation on the number of times you can renew an O-1. The O-1 commonly comes in three-year increments for the first application, then one or three years subsequently.

Once you receive an O-1, it becomes easier to renew it. This visa classification serves as a highly effective stepping-stone to a greencard. Often people apply for the O-1 a few times and eventually apply for the greencard.


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