Breaking News: USCIS Promises Major Visa Improvements - (July 21, 2010)

USCIS Promises Major Improvements to the Visa Process
 
Washington, D.C. - Senior officials at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) yesterday promised public stakeholders that processing times for regularly-filed artist visa petitions will not exceed 14 days. The agency also promised 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 for the two service centers that process the O and P visas used by artists traveling to the United States for performances.

These commitments come in response to requests from the nonprofit performing arts community and following significant intervention by leaders in the House, Senate, and the White House Domestic Policy Council. The League has been advocating for improvements in partnership with national colleagues in the Performing Arts Visa Working Group: American Federation of Musicians, Association of Performing Arts Presenters, Dance/USA, North American Performing Arts Managers and Agents, OPERA America, Performing Arts Alliance, and Theatre Communications Group, and the full range of national arts organizations co-sponsoring annual Arts Advocacy Day policy requests.
 
14-Day Regular Processing Promised
 
According to the USCIS, both the California and Vermont visa processing centers are currently processing regularly filed O and P visa petitions (without the $1,000 Premium Processing fee) within an average of 14 days. Since 2001, regular processing times have varied wildly – ranging up to 120 days for some petitions, despite a requirement in law to process O and P petitions within 14 days. USCIS now says they will strive to honor that 14-day requirement. 

While this is a highly encouraging development, petitioners should continue to file visa petitions as early as possible and carefully track the processing times for their petitions. If processing times exceed 14 days, petitioners are advised to contact the USCIS National Customer Service Center at 1-800-375-5283. Given the inconsistent record of processing times, and the frequently ineffective response from the Customer Service Center, please track your visa’s processing time and report the results to the League in our new online data collector. The League and our fellow national performing arts service organizations will be closely monitoring trends in processing times and the information you provide will help us ensure that USCIS fulfills its promise.
 
Efforts Underway to Improve Quality of Process
 
In addition to streamlining processing times, USCIS says it has formed an internal performing arts visa working group and is taking immediate steps to address the spike in erroneous visa denials and requests for evidence received by U.S. arts organizations over the past year.

  • New Policy Supports Complete Itinerary Approvals
    Yesterday USCIS released a final policy memorandum advising visa processing centers to approve O petitions for the length of the validity period requested where the law and regulations permit, and clarified that there is no policy limiting the allowable gap between engagements in an itinerary. The memo reverses an informal policy adopted by the two processing centers that limited the allowable gap between engagements to 45 days. The nonprofit performing arts community is pleased with this positive development and has requested that the policy formally be applied to P petitions.
  • RFE Project to Improve Visa Response
    In response to voluminous cases of erroneous visa denials and requests for evidence, the USCIS is revising the training and templates used in adjudicating O and P visa petitions. Draft policy documents will be posted online for public comment, and the League will inform orchestras of opportunities to weigh in.
  • Online Case Status
    Petitioners must rely on the USCIS web site for up-to-date information about the status of a visa petition in progress. USCIS reports that a new and improved case status site will soon be launched.

Continued Advocacy Needed
 
Following years of advocacy on this issue, we are extremely pleased with this week’s breakthrough. That said, this is just one important step on the journey to consistent, reliable, and affordable arts visa processing. In partnership with the Performing Arts Visa Working Group, the League will continue to seek the promised improvements, in addition to weighing in with USCIS regarding the recently proposed fee increase, evidence requirements for O and P visas, and needed improvements to accessing emergency visa processing. Your examples of visa challenges are essential as we continue to communicate with USCIS headquarters. Report visa problems to the League as soon as you encounter them.
 
Prepare Perfect Petitions
 
In the wake of promised improvements by USCIS, it is more important than ever that artist visa petitioners do their part to submit complete and timely visa petitions. Visit the artistsfromabroad.org web site for guidance and contact League government affairs for assistance. Above all, remember to file your visa petition as early as possible. The promise of 14-day processing is encouraging, but not a guarantee – unexpected disruptions could put your performance in jeopardy. File early and compile your best possible petition. We will continue to update the Artists from Abroad web site to reflect any new policy developments.
 

Please direct any related questions to Heather Noonan, Vice President for Advocacy, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or Najean Lee, Government Affairs & Education Advocacy Manager, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

The League is a member of the Performing Arts Alliance, a coalition of national performing arts service organizations dedicated to advocating for national policies that recognize, enhance, and foster the contributions the performing arts make to America