Aliens with Visas

The Internal Journey of Immigrants

Multi media platform about student legal immigrant journey in America. Blogs, interviews, perspectives from students, professionals and lawyers. 


In this episode, we tackle head-on the subject of work visa - for international students in the arts, in America. Attorney Sharon Brenner of Surowitz Immigration PC answers 18 questions that discuss the purview of an artist visa, factors that strengthen a petition and how to make the best use of that one year of Optional Practical Training (OPT).

Narrated & Produced by Sandhya Ramachandran
Mixed & Mastered by Navneeth Narasimhan
Music Credits: Flying Pea v.1 by Daddy Scramble

DSO refers to Designated Student Official. 
OPT is optional practical training i.e. one year authorization for a full time job. 
O1 Visa or the artist visa is awarded to 'aliens of extraordinary ability'. The O1B is discussed in this episode. It is reserved for specialists in the arts & motion pictures industry.
RFE stands for Request For Evidence. US Immigration sends an RFE to the visa applicant if the evidence provided in the original petition is not enough.
O2 is a visa that allow professionals to accompany O1 visa holders. 


  • 01:43 - The difference between CPT and OPT.  
  • 02:30 - Can you get paid when you're on CPT and OPT? 
  • 03:51 - If you aren't a student (so no CPT or OPT), how would you as an artist work in the US?
  • 04:19 - What is the purview of an artist visa? What if your field of interest lies in the cusp of art and business? How do you pick what you are going to petition as? 
  • 07:05 - Is self sponsorship a defining characteristic of the artist visa?
  • 07:41 - Start the (legal) conversation early, once you get OPT out of the way. The school can't always support you fully in understanding the details.
  • 9:10 - How do you use your artist portfolio as legal evidence of your achievement?
  • 11:56 - If you don't have the necessary body of work. Should you revisit the artist visa later? Being your own PR person and staying very organized are crucial to making the best use of OPT.
  • 14:32 - What helps strengthen a good artist visa petition?
  • 15:16 - What are the options for someone who doesn't have as much direct evidence?
  • 16:29 - Importance of a good attitude and focus when you are working on a petition and why you need an attorney for this process. Note: There is no cap for the artist visa.
  • 19:17 - The arts in the US face struggles of their own. Does this in any way make the government unenthusiastic towards accepting artists of international origin? 
  • 20:11 - What is the turnaround like once you submit your papers for an artist visa? 
  • 22:22 - Understanding the role of a petitioner and how it differs from that of  an employer. The petitioner of an artist visa can allow for multiple employers, which makes it ideal for freelancers. 
  • 25:11 - Do you think the provision of an artist visa is disadvantageous to US citizens in any way?
  • 26:15 - Brief note on the O2 visa, which can be a great option if the O1 doesn't seem feasible.
  • 27: 36 - Does it make sense to look for a single company with a history of sponsorship as an artist?

Sharon Brenner has worked in various sectors of immigration law since 2004. She is well-versed in visa matters for artistic professionals and has spoken on the topic at creative organizations and events including SXSW, Nova Scotia Music Week, and the c/o Pop Convention in Cologne, Germany, among others. Her clientele has included renowned musicians, film professionals, fashion designers, fine artists, graphic designers, and photographers among others. Click here to read more.