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) are making 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 (prior September 11), USCIS adopted a Premium Processing Service, guaranteeing processing within 15 calendar days at an unaffordable cost for most nonprofit arts organizations -- $1,225 fee per petition. This is unaffordable to most nonprofit arts organizations.
Prior to creation of the Premium Processing Service, regular O and P visa processing took an average of 45 days. For those unable to pay the $1,225 premium processing fee, regular processing times have varied between 45 days-six months. In addition to lengthy processing times, inconsistent policies in processing artist visa petitions result in delays, expense, and unwarranted requests for further evidence.
Current USCIS practice compounds the growing risk that foreign guest artists will be unable to enter the United States in time for their engagements, causing financial burdens on nonprofit arts organizations, and potentially denying the American public the opportunity to experience international artistry due to delays and cancellations.
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 U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to reduce the total processing times for O and P petitions filed by, or on behalf of, nonprofit arts-related organizations.
- We further call on Congress and the Administration to persuade USCIS to take ongoing administrative action to improve the artist visa process.
New P-1B Policy for Individuals
A foreign individual performing as a member of a U.S.-based group is eligible to apply for a P-1B visa, according to a December 31, 2011 memo issued by USCIS. Previously, the P-1B classification was exclusively available to foreign-based groups of performers. This development provides an opportunity for individuals to apply for a visa based on the reputation of the U.S.-based group with which the performances will take place. Please note, however, that individuals coming to the United States on a P-1B visa will only be authorized for work that takes place as a member of the U.S.-based group. For individual artists planning an itinerary of activities that includes performances as a member of a group, plus solo or other endeavors, the O-1B will be the appropriate visa classification. While the memo is dated December 2011, USCIS has yet to publicly post or proactively announce the policy change. Nonetheless, the Vermont and California visa processing centers are implementing the new policy. See the P1-B page on Artists from Abroad for more details.
Visa Filing Fees Increase
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has increased the fees for visa petitions filed on or after November 23, 2010.
- The fee for the regular I-129 petition for a nonimmigrant worker will increase from $320 to $325.
- The fee for the I-907 premium processing form will increase from $1,000 to $1,225.
- The fee for the I-539 petition to extend/change status (used for spouse and dependents) will decrease from $300 to $290.
- The fee for the I-824 petition for action on an approved application or petition (usually used to request a duplicate I-797 notice of approval) will increase from $340 to $405.
Petitions mailed, postmarked, or otherwise filed on or after November 23, 2010 must include the new fee. To avoid delays in processing, please note the fee change and plan accordingly. USCIS will likely return any petitions that are filed with the old fee after November 23.
Please visit the Artists from Abroad website for further details on these important changes.
USCIS Promises Visa Process Improvements
USCIS pledged to meet the statutory 14-day regular processing time and promised public stakeholders that significant improvements to the quality of artist visa processing will soon be underway as the agency undergoes a major effort to revise its policy and training programs. While these statements are encouraging, they have yet to be fully implemented and, absent legislative action, improvements to the artist visa process are subject to the discretion of USCIS leadership.