Some young semi professional musicians are planning a tour that might include some dates in the USA. I called the CBP and they confidently assured me that an O or a P status, which can be obtained at the border, would be just the ticket. Further, the O status would allow them to bring their "merch" - shirts, CDs, and so on - that they sell at shows.
A few points about these fellows:
- they are not world famous, or even Canada famous, though one of them has 50,000 followers on Twitter. We are not talking Justin Bieber
- they are all Canadian citizens
- they never have written contracts with the venues, and often there isn't even an email trail, though I think "can you email me that, I need proof for the border" would work
- 2 of the 3 perform under stage names that are not in their passports
I told the phone person all of this and he was sure that O was just the thing they needed. He said "I'm sending you a link but don't worry about anything it says about application. They can just request O status at the border." Well the page about O-1 on the USCIS site is terrifying. It sure sounds like you need to be Justin or Celine to qualify.
I know they could sneak in and say they were visting friends. I know they could arrange to have their merch shipped to their venues. I want them to do this right and if they qualify to be admitted properly, that's what they should do. It's what adults do. But if they book all these dates, arrive at the border with a trunk full of merch, and get turned away and laughed at for thinking they would qualify - or worse, get a note on their files so none of them can even visit in the future - well that's a pretty bad outcome.
So just how extraordinary do you need to be to qualify for O? If it's just "extraordinary enough to be invited by a US venue to perform" then fine.