Results of International Guest Artists Survey—November 2004

Delays in Visa Processing by USCIS and the State Department Continue to Present a Barrier to Presenting Foreign Guest Artists

In response to this continuing policy problem the Performing Arts Visa Task Force (American Arts Alliance, American Federation of Musicians, American Symphony Orchestra League, Association of Performing Arts Presenters, Dance/USA, North American Folk Music and Dance Alliance, North American Performing Arts Managers and Agents, OPERA America, and Theatre Communications Group) conducted a survey of the nonprofit performing arts field to identify specific policy problems and to gather feedback on policy proposals that could help remedy the situation.

Visa processing problems are a barrier to presenting foreign guest artists.

  • A majority of survey respondents who are programming fewer foreign guest artists said that USCIS processing delays continue to be of greatest concern to them.
  • Survey respondents also indicated that consular processing problems are a significant concern.

Survey respondents indicated that lengthy visa processing times are impacting their bottom line and their ability to present artists to their audiences.

  • A majority of survey respondents indicated that the $1,000 Premium Processing Service is too expensive.
  • A majority of respondents indicated that lengthy processing times have increased the staff time and costs involved in engaging a foreign artist.
  • Additionally, some in the nonprofit performing arts field reported severe consequences for their audiences - including being forced to cancel performances or tours, replace scheduled artists, and even ceasing to program foreign artists.

Survey respondents call for common-sense reforms to improve visa processing for foreign artists.

  • The most important solution is to reduce the regular processing time back to Pre-PPS fee levels
    - The PAVTF, Congress, and the broader international exchange community continues to pressure USCIS to reduce backlogs and processing times.
  • Survey respondents said that all three of the following proposed common sense administrative reforms would be helpful. The PAVTF and Congress, have asked USCIS to act immediately on these three common sense reforms:
    1. Implement uniform policies, procedures and training at USCIS for handling all petitions
    2. Update the outdated and inaccurate petition form and instructions for O and P visas
    3. Allow applications for O and P visas to be filed one year before the proposed employment will begin
    - In response to our request, the USCIS and DHS have approved this policy change. It is currently under White House Review and may be implemented as early as mid-March.
  • Respondents to the survey also commented that streamlining the consular process for frequent guest artists is much needed.
    - The Task Force is meeting with top officials at the State Dept. to address the concerns of our membership and request the implementation of a process by which artists frequently traveling to the United States may be offered streamlined visa processing.

What You Can Do to Help

  • Keep us informed of your visa difficulties. Please report your challenges to us, respond to surveys and complete the tracking form. Your experiences inform our efforts to improve policy.
  • Be ready to advocate for change. As soon as March 2005 there may be an opportunity for the performing arts community to submit public comment in support of a policy to allow applications for O and P visas to be filed one year before the proposed employment will begin. Stay tuned.
  • Become an expert on the visa process. The website - The Complete Guide to Immigration and Tax Requirement for Foreign Guest Artists provides all the information you need to navigate the visa process.

Background On Visa Processing Delays

Current law requires a maximum 14-day process for regular O and P non-immigrant work related visa petitions. 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 began in June of 2001, prior to implementation of post-September 11 security measures. At that time, USCIS adopted a Premium Processing Service, guaranteeing processing within 15 days upon payment of an Additional $1000 fee per petition. This is unaffordable to most nonprofit arts organizations. Currently it can take USCIS up to six months to process the visa petitions in the O and P category. In addition to the lengthy USCIS processing, visa issuance at U.S. consulates abroad is taking longer.

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