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Getting an O-1, Gangnam Style

Friday, October 12, 2012

Earlier this month, Park Jae-Sang, a pudgy, 30-year-old dropout from Boston’s Berklee College of Music, made headlines when he was granted an O-1 visa.

The news made headlines in his native South Korea, where the awarding of such a visa from the United States commands a great deal of respect. The O-1 is a nonimmigrant, temporary work visa granted by USCIS to an individual “who possesses extraordinary ability in the sciences, arts, education, business, or athletics, or who has a demonstrated record of extraordinary achievement in the motion picture or television industry and has been recognized nationally or internationally for those achievements.” Once issued, holders of an O-1 may bring other assistant staff or family members with them as long as they meet certain criteria.

So how did this failed music student with quirky dance moves manage to qualify for the restrictive O-1 standard? Because PSY is the King of K-Pop.


“PSY” is Park Jae-Sang’s better-known stage name, and this singer, songwriter, performer and record producer of Korean pop – better known as “K-Pop” – recently scored his first American hit with the release of “Gangnam Style.” The song has enjoyed remarkable cult-like success around the world, and now PSY is ready to take America by storm. But the story behind this controversial artist’s ticket to an O-1 is an intriguing one. Back home in South Korea, PSY had met mixed success as a singer, but when “Gangnam Style” went viral on YouTube this past summer, things changed quickly. Today, the song has been viewed on YouTube more than 400 million times and has been “liked” on YouTube by a record 200-plus million people.

PSY was able to qualify for an O-1 visa by demonstrating to U.S. immigration authorities that he has “extraordinary ability by sustained national or international acclaim and must be coming temporarily to the United States to continue work in the area of extraordinary ability.” It’s a remarkable testimony to both his talent and the power of social media to quickly catapult one high over the requirements mandated by the U.S. (To learn more, go here

And for those aspiring artists who haven’t quite attained the international online acclaim of PSY? There’s still hope. All you have to do is follow these three steps to get an O-1: practice, practice, practice.

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