August 1

U.S. Visas for Artists and Entertainers

The United States is the entertainment hub of the world. Americans spend more money on entertainment than they do on education, clothes and retirement savings. Last year, Americans spent $43 billion on movies, $30 billion on concerts and $10 billion on recorded music.

Listen to the episode below.

Each year, artists and entertainers from around the globe try to come to the U.S. to be part of the entertainment boom and contribute to the melting pot that is the American culture. 

There are several U.S. visa options available for entering the U.S. as an artist or entertainer.

O1-B: Extraordinary Ability Visa

An entertainer can qualify for an O1-B visa if the applicant has won awards. For instance, if the person won a Grammy – it would be enough to qualify. If it is a lesser international or national award, it could still be used to meet one of the other categories of proof.

Elite memberships are another such qualifier. We can look at Mick Jagger and Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones who have been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Not only would being in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame qualify as an elite membership, but several other criteria would also subsequently be met. Media such as critical reviews, articles, contracts and press releases about the Rolling Stones would be everywhere.

Being part of an organization of distinguished reputation such as an award-winning band like The Rolling Stones would meet the criteria for an O1-B Visa.

The short video below answers frequently asked questions on both the O-1 and the equivalent EB-1 green card for artists and entertainers.

P1-B Visa: for Entertainment Groups Recognized as Outstanding

The P1 is for people internationally recognized as excellent, which is a lower standard than Extraordinary Ability. Individual athletes like a runner, tennis player or skier are all eligible for the P1 visa. The same does not hold true for entertainers under the P1-B. The applicant has to be in a band (or movie/theater group) and have played in that band for one year

While the band has to have been together for a year, they could possibly trade out a drummer, for instance. Let’s say, Pete Best is thrown out while Ringo Starr comes in, the Beatles could still get a P visa and Pete Best could come and play.

P3 Visa: for Culturally Unique Artists or Entertainers

If an artist or entertainer is playing culturally unique music that is not commonly played in the U.S., they may enter under a P3 visa. For instance, Jazz would not qualify because it is widely performed in the U.S. However, OnlineVisas recently secured a P3 visa for a musician who played a unique reggae, rap and African style of music. 

Another novel form of entertainment that can qualify for the P3 is a burlesque dancer. OnlineVisas was able to get a P3 visa for an Australian Moulin Rouge dancer to come and perform in America. 

Now, of course, she was not coming to the U.S. to be a Vegas showgirl, which is very different from burlesque. Immigration asked whether burlesque was the same as stripping and it is not. This individual’s show involved skits that were really forms of comedy with a vaudevillian feel interspersed with more risqué skits.

OnlineVisas has also obtained P3 visas for some of the Dali Lama’s monks. They performed culturally unique art in the form of chanting and making sand mandalas. It took the monks several days to make an intricate mandala that just blew away. It is a very beautiful Buddhist tradition that is not common to the U.S. 

Touring in the U.S. and Issues with the B1 Visitor Visa

Amateurs are able to come and play unpaid music festivals or other unpaid events on a B1 visa, but professionals cannot. Immigration is now making people turn over their social media accounts and if they see that this is a professional band who is promoting a show, event or links to their website, immigration will deny the visa.

OnlineVisas gets a lot of inquiries from agents, promoters and managers asking if we can get visas for a band or group to tour and perform other events in the U.S. The same amount of work goes into getting a visa whether the artist or entertainer is coming for a weekend or for three years. And unfortunately, it is the same cost.  

Now, the really neat thing about the non-immigrants O and P visas for artists and entertainers are the agent-based petitions. We can actually serve that role. We have created an international sports and entertainment agency where we are the petitioner and the gigs. Multiple gigs, venues, movie productions or television shows, or recording studios can all be considered as direct employers. 

The Changing Landscape of Immigration

Immigration has become very difficult because the threshold for getting any U.S. visa has been raised. Visas, strategies and evidence that used to work are being questioned, and the denials are more specific.

When USCIS moves left, we move right. Immigration attorneys are pretty great at sharing information and watching the trends in denials and approvals. We get together in conferences like the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) to learn how people are being denied and the approaches they took. 

While very few regulations have changed in the new presidency, there has been a change in adjudication procedures. The change in adjudication procedures is retrogressive and has led to more litigation. USCIS is abusing or violating the Agency Procedures Act, which is what agencies have to follow. USCIS is losing a lot of these lawsuits because agencies cannot make arbitrary and capricious decisions.

These policy shifts stem from the change in the USCIS’ motto that eliminated the phrase “we are a nation of immigrants.” At the same time, greater emphasis was placed on protecting American jobs and putting America First in the form of the ‘Buy American and Hire American’ initiative. While seemingly menial, those changes gave power to the adjudicators to find ways to deny cases in order to save jobs for Americans. That is 180 degrees turn from the perspective previously shared.

Imagine you’re a producer who is trying to bring in an artist for a specific show and the process is not being completed in a timely manner. The visas may eventually get approved, but then they are approved two months later. How does this benefit anyone? Instead of properly adjudicating applications and making sure the criteria are met, USCIS is nitpicking to find ways to deny cases. Moreover, they have increased the issuance of Requests for Evidence (RFEs), which delay the process and add to the cost.

About the author: Jon Velie has practiced Immigration law since 1993. He is CEO of OnlineVisas

Jon is an Amazon number one best-selling author of H-1B Visa: Application & Approval, is regularly covered by major media and has won a number of international awards. Jon was also pivotal in the Cherokee Freedmen Supreme Court case.

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