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.

  • I'm going to answer the question since it's a rather interesting visa to obtain but I am not sure this would be the appropriate Q&A site for this.
    – Karlson
    May 6, 2013 at 15:57
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    It's not about immigrating, it's about visiting. Travelling to. What visa you need is on topic. May 6, 2013 at 16:11
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    One thing is also, if they're coming from Canada, they can cross a terrestrial border and be honest at the border. If the process fails, then they just turn around. The cost will not be 3 transcontinental plane tickets but a filled fuel tank. I mean, overall it may be worth trying anyway.
    – Vince
    May 6, 2013 at 16:37
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    @Vince That's not entirely true, once you attempt to enter the US, you are fair game for US law enforcement. They can investigate you, decide to put you on some list to bar entry in the future or even detain you.
    – Relaxed
    Oct 4, 2013 at 11:35
  • I've had "black marks" put in my passport when trying to cross from Canada to USA in the mid '90s. They are in code and nobody will tell you exactly what they mean - but they do mean trouble and complications. Oct 4, 2013 at 13:23

2 Answers 2


In the end the group as a whole did not tour the States. However the one with 50,000 followers was invited to join someone else's tour, a plane ticket was bought, paperwork of some kind was done and still he was rejected at the border and not allowed in. Apparently even if you're not being paid, if you're performing in a context where people are paying to see the show (eg a bar with a cover, certainly a concert) you need some serious paperwork, and you can't put it together yourself it has to be put together by the people inviting you.

So absolutely DO NOT listen to the CBP advice I was given on the phone and just show up at the border asking for an O or a P. And if you're only semi professional, assume you will not be able to get the visa you want until someone cares enough to do a lot of paperwork on your behalf.

Update: the one who was rejected has since had two successful US tours. (He's up to 120,000 followers now.) The key was an organization called FMA that helps musicians get visas. I suppose some organizer must have told him about it. I found a page that explains how it works. This is totally they way to go if you're in this situation.

  • My understanding is that you can work as a busker / street performer in many countries without any special kind of visa but that other kinds of work, including even volunteer work, cannot be done on a tourist visa. I believe I have heard in the past that getting a visa that allows musicians and other performers to work is easier than other kinds of work visas though. This is all dredged out of my memory so any of it could be out of date or wrong. The busking stuff could be a grey area or loophole or just unofficially overlooked. Oct 4, 2013 at 12:58
  • FMA is "Freelance Musicians' Association". They have an information page about the "AFM". AFM is "American Federation of Musicians". They have a visa page. Aug 18, 2019 at 1:15

First off: IANAL

I called the CBP and they confidently assured me that an O or a P status -- I would suggest that all questions like this be directed at an immigration attorney specializing in these sort of visas.

Having said that.

I've just been through the information gathering session for the friends of ours who are skaters for a P Visa and there are several criteria that one absolutely has to match:

  1. They have to be together for at least 1 year
  2. They have to have verifiable proof of their ability such as: articles in reputable publications about their achievements, diplomas, etc
  3. Since some of them perform under stage name the link has to be established between stage and real names.
  4. Both O and P visas are work visas, so an "agent", which is an employer or a person contracting them for a gig will need to provide proof that they will be working while in the country and what they will be doing.

Now this is for P visa. The O visa from what I have been told by the same lawyer you will need to be a Justin Bieber or Celine Dion if we're talking about the musicians, or a winner of World Cup/Olympic Games if we are talking about athletes.

And one last thing. I don't think the rules are different for Canadian citizens but for everyone else the border control cannot issue O or P visas this can only be done by a consular worker with information from USCIS.

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    I don't disagree about the lawyer, but if you're going to make $40 or $50 a night for 7 or 8 gigs, after gas money to drive from town to town you're realistically not going to afford legal advice. I would settle for knowing what the written rules are in this case. May 6, 2013 at 15:59
  • @KateGregory When I was in the lawyer's office who specializes in these types of visas the rules regarding them would only fit into a book the size of "War and Peace" and there are specific rules for skaters/musicians/other atheletes/scientists, etc. The generic rules I have listed above. Now if what you list is all they make I don't think they will be able to afford $325 it takes just to file a petition.
    – Karlson
    May 6, 2013 at 16:05
  • @KateGregory BTW, consultation with a lawyer won't cost them more then $100 and quite a bit of lawyers will do the initial consultation for free.
    – Karlson
    May 6, 2013 at 16:13

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