How Jessa got her O-1 Visa
If you’re not a U.S. citizen and want to work here, you need a work visa. It’s not easy to get one and only the most determined dancers can navigate the twists and turns to reach that goal. We recently spoke with long-time Answers4Dancers member Jessa Doll who’s from Canada. She shares her visa journey to help others. Here’s Jessa's story in her own words:
"I received my first visa when I was 21 years old. I knew in high school I wanted to pursue dance as a career in Los Angeles, which meant getting an O-1 visa. An O-1 visa is for Individuals with extraordinary ability in their field of work. It took me a few years to gather everything I needed for my application as I was young and needed the experience that comes with time (training, creating work relationships, working in the industry in Canada and saving money.)
The first lawyer I visited, didn’t think I had a strong enough case and would not accept me as a client. I spent the next few months strengthening the weak areas and interviewed with a different lawyer. After showing him everything I had prepped, he said I would have no problem. About 3 months and $5,000 later, my visa was approved and I moved to Los Angeles. The processing times vary. It can range anywhere between a few weeks to a few months.
My first 3 years in Los Angeles were a bit underwhelming of what I had envisioned. I have always been hard on myself and even though I was experiencing so many new exciting things, it wasn’t at the caliber I wanted. With big dreams and so much growing to do, I knew I wasn’t done.
I decided to apply for a second working visa which meant another $5,000 and the same application process. During my second year, I felt like I was finally starting to come into my own and felt confident in who I was and what I had to offer. In those next 3 years it felt like a constant flow of highs and lows. Learning how to deal with rejection was difficult and disheartening but I had many amazing mentors, friends, and family that helped me keep striving for excellence.
It wasn’t until my 5th year when I decided to change my hair color that things started to pick up! I booked the VMAs in New York with Ariana Grande. This was my first time in NYC and my first awards show. Shortly after, I booked a music video with Jennifer Lopez and French Montana in the same week. A few months later I directed booked my first World Tour with Latin artist Maluma.
If you’re from out of Country and looking to pursue a career in the United States as a dancer, I highly recommend these steps.
1. Visit the place you want to live first for at least a month. I suggest this because it’ll give you a glimpse of the life you would be living and gives you an opportunity to meet people.
2. Save, Save, Save! You won’t be able to work in the USA until you have a visa so trust me when I say, save. You don’t want to be eating noodles everyday and sleeping on an air mattress for years like me + the visa application and moving in general is expensive.
3. Make the move only when you feel confident and know yourself. Everyone has days of not feeling confident but if you try to enter into this hard industry only being half whole, you’re going to have a tough time.
4. Apply to agencies. You definitely want to be set up with an agent before making the move to the States. Especially on an O-1 visa- you are only able to accept work in your field (dancing) which means no barista, retail, or serving jobs, etc.. You want to maximize your chance of working. With an agent, you are set up to receive castings, auditions, and direct bookings that you wouldn’t be able to get without one.
5. Have fun in the process but make smart decisions!
I’m so proud of myself for sticking it out those first few years and being resilient. I kept reminding myself that I got my visa for a reason and worked too hard to go home. I also had many mentors remind me, it takes time to create a career of longevity.
Finally, I’m so grateful that I had Answers4Dancers as a resource when I was a teenager when I was just starting out. I learned so many things about the industry in a safe, positive environment. There’s such a wonderful community of dancers and educators on the website … It made it easy to make friends and find answers to all the questions I had!”
Thank you Jessa for sharing your story. We are sure this will be a great help to so many dancers who share your dream of working in the USA.
For more information on obtaining a work visa, check out this page, Need A Work Visa?