Rachel Sara Wool, an attorney at D’Alessio Law Group in Los Angeles, has had a lifelong love affair with dance. Beginning at age six, she trained in various styles, taking classes in tap, jazz and ballet in her hometown in Michigan. While she didn’t become a professional dancer, all her experience in the studio is now put to use daily in her law practice.
“As an immigration attorney who focuses on O-1 Artist Visas, I have had the honor of helping hundreds of internationally renowned dancers and choreographers advance their careers to the next level here in the United States,” she says. “I am grateful to have the opportunity to help those who do in fact possess the talent in an area that is very close to my heart. I genuinely believe that dancers are the most passionate, humble and ambitious artists on this planet.”
Dance Informa recently caught up with Wool to learn more about O-1 Artist Visas, what the qualifications are and why these Visas are a game changer.
To first lay the groundwork, can you explain exactly what an O-1 Artist Visa is?
“The O-1 is an exclusive non-immigrant visa that allows artists with extraordinary ability in the arts, sciences, athletics, business or education to work in the U.S. for up to three years at a time. It is designed for individuals who have illustrated a record of extraordinary achievement in their field. The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) looks for artists who have reached the upper ranks of the industry in their home country. It is designed for those who stand apart from their peers and who are likely to make strong contributions to our economy.”
Thanks! Now, how does one go about getting this? What qualifications are needed?
“There are three main ‘pieces’ required in order to obtain this exclusive visa. USCIS requires that you have a: (1) petitioner (agent/business manager, et cetera), (2) employer (who will sign your offer of employment or a ‘deal memo’ for up to three years, and (3) talent (which is documented through various types of evidence to illustrate how you have maintained success in the field).
To figure out who has attained this high level of success, USCIS considers everything from your past leading/critical roles for major events/productions to high salaries in your field, from the types of distinguished productions you have been in to major awards you may have won, and from press articles to collaborations with top companies and performers.”
Overall, why is this Visa a game changer for artists?
“It opens up doors for sustained engagement in the competitive U.S. market. If you are originally from another country, that often means expanding your repertoire to take on projects in major U.S. cities. I have witnessed hundreds of artists who have ‘outgrown’ their surroundings in their home country and had their lives transform once they were able to break into the U.S. market.
Though the process can seem daunting, pursuing an O-1 Visa might be one of the best moves you make in your entire career.”
Who are some international artists who have obtained an O-1 Visa?
“Various clients come to mind! My client Nick Geurts is an Australian dancer with credits including X-Factor, So You Think You Can Dance Australia, Lady Gaga and Ricky Martin world tours. Another is Memo Martinez, a Mexican dancer with credits including Jennifer Lopez, Mariah Carey, MTV Movie Awards, MTV’s America’s Best Dance Crew. Jessica Doll is a Canadian dancer with credits from Disney, Nickelodeon and Lifetime. Also, there is Renee Ritchie, an Australian dancer with credits including SYTYCD Australia, Kelly Clarkson and Kylie Minogue.”
What’s your personal advice for dancers looking to get an O-1 Visa?
“Dance like it’s your ‘business’. First, start a paper trail. Save tangible evidence from past events/productions, including photos, programs, press, pay stubs, links, certificates. Keep these materials as organized as possible.
Second, keep it fresh. Always keep your resume, reel and headshots up to date. Top talent agencies and potential employers will be looking at these materials.
Third, build your network. Key parts of your application will rest upon your expert letters from industry leaders (people who can vouch for your talent). Try to make a couple professional contacts from each big project you work on, as I generally recommend five to seven expert letters. Bring these leaders into your network by connecting on LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Dance truly connects the world, so surround yourself with the movers and the shakers of the industry and maintain a connection by following their careers.
Fourth, go social and build your brand. USCIS has taken notice of the boom in social media branding and may consider measures of social media impact — views, likes, followers — when evaluating cases. That means you need to get strategic in crafting your digital presence. Define yourself so you stand out in auditions. Do you have certain strengths? Highlight them. Do you have unique moves? Brag about them. Share entertaining posts frequently and follow the major leaders in your corner of the dance world and get them to follow back. Make sure to post early and often, choosing content that is both distinctive and inspirational. The more responsive and active you are, the bigger your following will grow, and the bigger your social media presence will become as well.
Fifth, choose your attorney wisely. Contact and work with a U.S. immigration attorney who has experience with O-1 visas and, most importantly, one you feel comfortable with. You should always feel like a priority.
Sixth, stay engaged. Periodically, I get a new client who seems extremely excited about their visa, only to have them redirect their priorities as their schedule fills up. As a result, their case often stalls because they take too long to provide me the resources I need to push things forward. Keep those lines of communication open, and you will go a long way to ensuring a quick and successful outcome.”
Any last words of advice?
“Be confident, stay humble and, above all, believe in yourself. Remember, there is nothing that says your O-1 journey has to be stressful. If you find the right legal team, the entire process should flow quite smoothly. In fact, it can be fun. Organizing an O-1 application gives you a great incentive to keep track of your career as it evolves over time, helping you to visualize the progress you have made toward achieving your ultimate goals.
If you have the talent, if you believe in yourself, if your heart lives and breathes on the dance floor, and if you move in the right direction in rehearsals, you have no other option than to make your dreams come true.”
By Chelsea Thomas of Dance Informa.
Photos courtesy of Rachel Sara Wool.