Improving the Visa Process for Foreign Guest Artists
What Is At Stake
American nonprofit performing arts organizations provide an important public service by presenting foreign guest artists in performances, educational events, and cultural programs in communities across the country. Foreign guest artists that perform in the US are required to obtain an O or P non-immigrant work visa. The O category is used by individual foreign artists and the P category is used by groups of foreign artists, reciprocal exchange programs, and culturally unique artists.
Delays and inconsistencies by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS)—the agency in charge of visas—make it increasingly difficult for international artists to appear in the United States. Nonprofit performing arts organizations confront uncertainty in gaining approval for visa petitions for foreign guest artists. Delays began in June of 2001 when USCIS adopted a Premium Processing Service which guarantees processing within 15 calendar days at $1,225 fee per petition. Currently, that fee is $1,250. This cost is unaffordable to most nonprofit arts organizations.Before the Premium Processing Service, regular O and P visa processing took an average of 45 days. Without the premium fee, regular processing times have varied between 45 days to six months. In addition to lengthy processing times, inconsistent policies in processing artist visa petitions result in other additional expenses and unwarranted requests from USCIS for further evidence.
In 2010, USCIS pledged to meet the statutory 14-day regular processing time, and promised public stakeholders significant improvements to the quality of artist visa processing. Without legislative action, though, improvements to the artist visa process are subject to the discretion of USCIS leadership. The House approved measure H.R. 1312 in April 2008 to improve visa processing, and the bill was reintroduced in both the House and Senate in 2009. In June 2013, Senators Leahy (D-VT) and Hatch (R-UT) introduced the ARTS provision for timely visa processing which was supported in a broader package of amendments to the Senate's comprehensive immigration reform. The provision was included when the Senate passed this immigration bill on June 27, 2013.
How would it work? The ARTS provision would reduce total maximum processing times for O and P nonprofit artist visa petitions to under 30 days. Currently, USCIS provides Premium Processing within 15 calendar days for petitioners able to pay an extra $1,250 fee – which is unaffordable for most arts organizations. Under the ARTS Act, USCIS would be required to treat as a Premium Processing case—free of additional charge—any arts-related O and P visa petition that it fails to process within the 14 days required in current law. The PAA is working with Congress, USCIS, and the Department of State to implement common sense administrative reforms to lower the visa processing times for foreign guest artists.
We urge Congress to:
- Enact the Arts Require Timely Service (ARTS) Act, which will require USCIS to ensure timely processing for visa petitions filed by, or on behalf of, nonprofit arts-related organizations. We urge USCIS to enforce current statutory requirements, which instruct them to process O and P arts visas in 14 days.
- Persuade USCIS to take ongoing administrative action to improve the artist visa process.
Artist Visa Improvements Advance in Senate
On June 11, improvements to the U.S. visa process for international guest artists—called the Arts Require Timely Service (ARTS) provision—were introduced in the Senate by Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Orrin Hatch (R-UT). The provision was a part of an amendment to the comprehensive immigration reform bill that was under consideration in the U.S. Senate. As the Senate began debate of comprehensive immigration reform, the PAA joined a coordinated effort by a broad array of national arts organizations supporting improvements to the visa process.On June 20, the ARTS provision was wrapped into a broader package of amendments to the comprehensive immigration reform bill. On June 27, the Senate passed the bill with the ARTS provision included. The immigration bill will next be sent to the House of Representatives.
Proof of Visa Goes Paperless
The paper card issued to foreign working artists upon arrival to the U.S. is going electronic. U.S. Customs and Border protection has announced that beginning April 30 and throughout mid-May, issuance of paper I-94 cards will be phased out at U.S. airports. Verification of an individual’s visa status and the length of the approved stay will be accessible online. The new site will be up and running as of April 30. While information about a visitor’s visa classification will be stamped into his/her passport and be accessible electronically, the I-94 remains the most important form of legal documentation for visa holders upon arrival in the U.S. It is advised to print a hard copy. Learn more about this new development on ArtistsfromAbroad.org.