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February 19, 2014
Urgent Artist Visa Update!
Visa-related guest artist cancellations can have a huge reputational and financial impact on nonprofit arts organizations, damage international cultural relations, and deprive audiences of extraordinary performances. If your orchestra engages international artists, please take note of the following urgent information about the U.S. visa process!
The League has received reports of a recent wave of unexpected processing delays, requests for additional evidence, and even denials for O and P artist visas. While the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) website continues to list an average timeframe of 14 days for regular processing, the system is actually taking significantly longer for many petitioners. Do not rely on the projected processing times listed on the USCIS website! File your petitions as early as possible, and take these steps:
1. Consult artistsfromabroad.org for essential tips on preparing a visa petition.
2. Contact the League for assistance in navigating the visa process. We are here to help members orchestras with their questions and can walk you through the many layers of the petition process.
3. Complain to us. Really. Please tell us where you are encountering problems with the U.S. visa system. The League is working in collaboration with the broader performing arts community to seek policy changes that improve the artist visa process. If your orchestra encounters a problem after submitting a petition in a timely and complete manner, we would like to bring your story forward as an illustration of the policy improvements needed.
While processing times for artist visas improved significantly following a promise by USCIS in 2010, the timeframe is still highly unpredictable, and the process for determining whether artist visa petitions meet the standard for approval is inconsistent.
Advance planning can mean the difference between the show going on – or getting cancelled. Again, plan to file your petitions as early as possible in order to absorb any unexpected delays in processing or to respond to a USCIS request for additional evidence, and be sure to give your petition a close look for errors or omissions before filing!
October 30, 2013
USCIS Launches Website Improvements
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) today launched a redesigned website available in both English and Spanish. The website upgrades seek to provide customers with a simplified and user-friendly experience thanks to improved navigation menus, a tools section that helps customers complete certain electronic transactions, and a home page with a banner that rotates time-sensitive information and alerts as well as a larger search bar. Visa petitioners familiar with the layout of the previous home page may wish to note that the link to check on a case status has moved from the upper left corner to a more prominent position below the rotating banner.
October 17, 2013
Happy Birthday to Artists from Abroad!
October 1, 2013
Impact: From Showdown to Shutdown
In what has felt like an extended game of high-stakes chicken, the Senate and the House of Representatives have failed to fund the federal government, resulting in a long-feared shutdown beginning today – the first since 1996. Congress must break the stalemate as quickly as possible in order to minimize the fall-out. If the shutdown is brief, here’s what to expect:
- Visas for Foreign Guest Artists: If you are in the process of obtaining a visa for a foreign artist, plan for possible delays during the government shutdown. Obtaining a visa is a three part process, starting with approval of a petition by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), followed by processing of a visa application by the State Department at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate abroad, and completed by U.S. Customs and Border Protection, on inspection and admission to the U.S.
- USCIS and Petitions: On the plus side, because USCIS is a fee-based agency that, for the most part, does not depend on Congressional appropriations, USCIS has resources to continue processing visa petitions. However, given the strain of the government shutdown on overall infrastructure, delays are a real possibility.
- State Department and Visa Processing: Again, the good news is that consular visa processing, too, is supported by fees, not appropriations. Many consular offices thus will continue conducting interviews and issuing visas, so long as their buildings can remain open. The longer the shutdown persists, the more likely it is that consular services will become unavailable. Visit the web site for a specific consulate to determine whether the location is in operation. One major unknown is the fate of any visa applications that might be delayed by "additional administrative processing," meaning security-related concerns. A number of other U.S. agencies are involved in the clearance process and their ability to continue visa-related clearance operations is unclear.
- Arrival in the U.S.: Customs and Border Protection officials are considered “essential” personnel. Entry to the U.S. for visa holders should not be interrupted.
This is what we know as of today, and we will keep you posted as more information becomes available. The big takeaway when it comes to visas is (as always) – leave as much time as possible for the visa process to be completed. The longer the government shutdown remains in place, the more likely the process is to be delayed and disrupted.
June 25, 2013
Artist Visa Improvements Advance in Senate
Improvements to the U.S. visa process for international guest artists are now included in the comprehensive immigration reform package under consideration in the U.S. Senate! The Arts Require Timely Service (ARTS) provision, which will require U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to ensure timely processing for visa petitions filed by, or on behalf of, nonprofit arts-related organizations, was originally introduced by Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Orrin Hatch (R-UT) just over one week ago. Last night, the provision was wrapped into a broader package of amendments to the comprehensive immigration reform bill under Senate consideration.
American nonprofit arts organizations and artists – in communities large and small across our country – provide an important public service and boost international diplomacy by presenting foreign guest artists in performances and educational events. Only with consistent improvements over time, will confidence in the U.S. visa process continue to be re-built among U.S. organizations and foreign artists alike, greatly enhancing international cultural exchange.
How would it work? The Arts Require Timely Service (ARTS) provision has had strong bipartisan support in Congress and would improve the reliability of the visa process by reducing total maximum processing times for O and P nonprofit arts-related 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.
Thank you for your ongoing advocacy! Since 2001, orchestras, the League, and our arts colleagues have urged Congress and USCIS to remove barriers to international cultural engagement by improving the historically burdensome and unpredictable O and P artist visa process. We are now working to ensure that the recent incremental improvements to the artist visa process are locked into law so that confidence in the U.S. artist visa process can be restored. Our policy work is carried out in coordination with the Performing Arts Visa Working Group, which includes the American Federation of Musicians, Association of Performing Arts Presenters, Dance/USA, League of American Orchestras, North American Performing Arts Managers and Agents, OPERA America, Performing Arts Alliance, Theatre Communications Group, and our partners at The Recording Academy. As the Senate began debate of comprehensive immigration reform, the League initiated a coordinated effort by a broad array of national arts organizations supporting improvements to the visa process.
Next steps: We are especially grateful to the many orchestra advocates who contacted key Senate offices in the past week to describe how improvements to the artist visa process will support access to international artistry both in the U.S. and abroad. Action on comprehensive immigration reform provides the opportunity to make enduring policy changes to ensure that the U.S. visa process for artists is reliable, efficient, and affordable. The Senate plans to complete action on its immigration bill by the end of this week, while House consideration begins to move forward. We will keep you informed of ongoing advocacy opportunities. In the meantime, visit our advocacy center to learn more.
April 12, 2013
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 and verification of an individual’s visa status and the length of the approved stay will be accessible online at www.cbp.gov/I94. The new site will be up and running on 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. We advise printing a hard copy. Learn more about this new development on ArtistsfromAbroad.org.
March 12, 2013
Sequestration and the Arts
What do the messy debates in Washington over spending limits and across-the-board 5% cuts to domestic spending mean for your orchestra?
If your orchestra engages international artists – as ever, start the visa process as early as possible to brace for any staffing impact that might be felt in visa processing centers here in the U.S. and at consulates abroad. Remember to consult www.artistsfromabroad.org and League staff for any help you might need with the visa process.
February 12, 2013
League Comments on O Visa Response Template
The League joined the AFM and a range of other national performing arts organizations in submitting comments to USCIS on behalf of the performing arts community. The USCIS is revising the form it uses when asking visa petitioners to provide more information to support an O visa application. USCIS issues a Request for Evidence (RFE) when a petition is incomplete. We are urging USCIS to ensure that the response it gives to petitioners in the RFE is clear, concise, and is consistent with the information USCIS provides petitioners as they prepare to submit their initial petition, so that petitioners can readily reply to the RFE and keep their petition moving through the review process without unnecessary delay.
October 4, 2012
Immigration Officials in Dialogue with the League’s Heather Noonan
Personnel from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) granted a rare interview with Heather Noonan, the League’s vice president for advocacy, answering policy questions and sharing their observations about the visa petition process. Claire Nicholson and Christopher Bentley of USCIS headquarters shared their advice and observations in the interview, transcribed and posted online by Musical America as: A Conversation with USCIS. For complete guidance when engaging foreign guest artists, orchestras are reminded to visit our specialize site: www.artistsfromabroad.org.
August 9, 2012
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.
July 18, 2012
Engage Foreign Guest Artists? Free Artists from Abroad Webinar Online Now!
July 9, 2012
Visit Newly Re-launched www.artistsfromabroad.org for an Important Foreign Artist Tax Update
If your orchestra engages foreign guest artists, please take note of the following development that will impact artists’ ability to file the required U.S. tax return. Through the remainder of 2012, new requirements are in place for documentation accompanying requests for Individual Taxpayer Identification Numbers (ITIN). These documents will now require much more time to assemble, and the IRS plans to announce further changes to the ITIN process to take effect in 2013. Read more about the process for obtaining an ITIN on the Artists from Abroad website. Our newly re-designed site also now includes an RSS feed. Sign up today to get the latest news items delivered directly to your inbox!
May 23, 2012
Grand Re-Opening: Artists from Abroad Relaunches Today!
Washington, D.C. - The League of American Orchestras and Association of Performing Arts Presenters are pleased to announce the relaunch of Artists from Abroad -- the most complete and up-to-date online resource for engaging foreign guest artists, providing essential guidance, forms, and useful links. The newly redesigned and relaunched website makes it even easier to find the information performing arts organizations and artist managers need to successfully navigate the U.S. visa and tax procedures required when engaging international artists for performances in the U.S. The new site includes:
- RSS feed that can automatically notify you of site updates
- Improved, intuitive navigation
- Updated content and links throughout!
Bookmark ArtistsFromAbroad.org today!
December 17, 2010
Remember New Visa Fees and Form!
Orchestras that engage international guest artists take note! On November 23, the fee for regularly-filed O & P visa petitions increased to $325 and the Premium Processing Service fee increased to $1,225. All petitions must be submitted with the proper fee as U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will return any petitions filed with insufficient fees.
USCIS has also released a new version of the I-129 Form, which is used to apply for artist visas. December 21, 2010 is the last day for postmarking to USCIS the previous edition of the Form I-129. Petitions postmarked to USCIS on or after December 22, 2010 must include new Form I-129. Please visit the Artists from Abroad website for updated guidance on completing the new Form I-129 and continue to check the site for continuous updates.
Visit Artists from Abroad
October 5, 2010
Orchestras engaging international guest artists should take note of an upcoming change to the O and P visa filing process. 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 $1000 to $1225.
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 new fee before November 23rd, or with the old fee after November 23rd. See the ArtistsfromAbroad.org site for complete details regarding all fee changes.
USCIS Repeats Promise of Speedy Processing
When the fee increase was proposed earlier this summer, individual arts-related petitioners and the national performing arts community filed comments with USCIS, urging the agency to make much needed improvements to the regular petition process and objecting to the significant increase in the already unaffordable Premium Processing fee. In their September 24 notice regarding the final fees, USCIS reiterated its recent commitment to speed up and improve the quality of regular O and P artist visa processing, with the intent that fewer petitioners would need to resort to the costly Premium Processing Service.
Monitor and Report Your Experience
While USCIS has once again confirmed its intent to process regularly-filed petitions within 14 days, please continue to file arts-related petitions as far in advance of a performance as possible, and closely monitor the level of service you receive:
- If more than 14 days transpire after filing a petition through the regular process, immediately call the National Customer Service Center (NCSC) at 800-375-5283 to initiate an inquiry into the status of your case.
- Please report your experience with the petition process to the League. We will be closely monitoring trends in processing times and the information you provide will help us ensure that USCIS fulfills its promise to improve the efficiency and quality of the artist visa process.
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 and compile your best possible petition. We will continue to update the Artists from Abroad web site to reflect any new policy developments.
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.
July 15, 2010
Ask USCIS to Improve the Visa Process!
Orchestras experiencing difficulty obtaining artist visas have a new opportunity to weigh in with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) as the agency proposes an across-the-board fee increase. The USCIS proposes a $5 increase in the fee for the regular I-129 visa processing form (which would bring the fee to $325), and a $225 increase in the Premium Processing fee (bringing the total fee to $1,225). The performing arts community is urging USCIS to immediately make long-overdue improvements to the regular artist visa process and to refrain from increasing the already-unaffordable Premium Processing fee. Comments to USCIS are due by July 26. The League will submit detailed comments on behalf of orchestras, in collaboration with our 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.
Please note: Until the USCIS issues a final rule regarding the proposed fee change, the filing fee for the I-129 form remains $320 and the fee for Premium Processing Service remains $1,000. We will inform you immediately when and if fee changes are made. In the meantime, do not adjust the fees that accompany your petition, as overpayment will result in serious delays.
Sample Message to Personalize
If your orchestra has recently encountered a visa challenge, please participate in the USCIS comment process. We have prepared sample comments that should be personalized with details of your orchestra's experience, along with some background information you may find helpful. Personalizing your message is extremely important. Each comment is read and documented by the agency, and "cookie cutter" messages have less impact than those including specific details. Remember to include the first line noting the DHS docket number!
Re: DHS Docket No. USCIS–2009–0033
The following comments are in response to the proposed rule to adjust the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) immigration and naturalization benefit application and petition fee schedule.
- We call upon USCIS to make immediate and long-overdue improvements to the regular visa process, including meeting the current 14-day statutory requirement for processing times of regularly-filed O and P petitions, and improving the quality of petition adjudication. Any increase in the regular processing fee must be accompanied by these improvements.
- USCIS failure to make improvements in the regular petition process has resulted in delays and unwarranted requests for evidence or denials, which force some orchestras to pay the $1,000 Premium Processing Service (PPS) fee. This $1,000 fee is already unaffordable, therefore we oppose the USCIS proposal to increase the PPS fee to $1,225. Given the harmful inefficiencies of the regular petition process, this increase in Premium Processing would impose an extreme burden on nonprofit orchestra petitioners.
By inviting foreign musicians to perform, orchestras provide American audiences the opportunity to experience a diversity of musical talent and encourage a supportive climate for U.S. orchestras to perform abroad. Arts organizations in every area of the country must rely on the U.S. visa process to be affordable, reliable, and efficient.
How to Submit Comments
Comments may be filed by the July 26 deadline through the federal government's regulation web portal. Visit http://www.regulations.gov/. Follow the instructions for submitting comments and double-check that comments are in response to "U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Fee Schedule."
Submit Your Personalized Comments to USCIS Today!
May 14, 2010
USCIS Invites Feedback Regarding Artist Visas
In response to concerns expressed by the League and the broader national performing arts community, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has opened a public comment period on one aspect of artist visa process: the amount of time allowable between multiple engagements in a single visa approval period. The League, in partnership with our national performing arts sector colleagues, will submit detailed comments to USCIS. We encourage you to consider submitting comments on behalf of your orchestra to give greater voice to the concerns about the artist visa process. We've drafted sample talking points that may be modified to include details about your orchestra's experience with the visa process. Comments must be received by USCIS by May 24, 2010.
League Calls for Urgently Needed Major Improvements
We know that challenges with the artist visa process abound. That's why the League and our national partners have been in close communication with top officials at the White House, in Congress, and at USCIS to call for immediate improvements.
- The draft policy memo under consideration by USCIS responds to our requests earlier this year, in which we asked USCIS to not limit allowable gaps between performances by a specific number of days, and in which we called for an open public comment process to fully discuss the issue.
- During a Senate Judiciary oversight hearing on Tuesday, May 11, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) urged USCIS Director Mayorkas to take immediate action to improve the artist visa process.
- On May 13, 2010, senior officials from the White House, USCIS, and the Presidents Committee on the Arts and Humanities joined us in a dialogue about artist visa concerns.
Visa Problem? Help Us Help You
If your orchestra receives an unusual request for evidence, or your visa petition is denied, please contact the League as soon as possible. Your specific case examples are essential to improving artist visa policies - and we can also help you navigate a crisis. We need to hear from you as early as possible to be of help.
Unified Advocacy Continues
The League's efforts to improve the visa process for guest artists are conducted in close collaboration with our advocacy partners 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 under the guidance of immigration attorney and www.artistsfromabroad.org author Jonathan Ginsburg. In addition to representing orchestras before USCIS and the White House, we continue to work with Congress to seek a legislative remedy to improve the reliability and efficiency of visa processing. This issue was also included as an advocacy priority during national Arts Advocacy Day, endorsed by dozens of national arts organizations.
December 16, 2009
USCIS Reinstates Multi-Venue Petition Process!
Orchestras can once again file a single visa petition for artists engaged for performances at multiple venues in the United States. In response to concerns expressed by the League and the broader national performing arts community, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has reinstated the ability of a petitioner to file a single petition for artists coming to the U.S. for an itinerary of events with multiple arts organizations. Over the past two months, the League and our coalition partners communicated with top officials at USCIS, on the Hill, and in the White House to urge a return to this practice, which is more efficient and affordable than submitting multiple visa requests for a single itinerary of performance events.
In October, USCIS issued a memo revoking the ability of a U.S.-based employer to file a single petition for artists coming to the U.S. for an itinerary of events with multiple arts organizations - unless the petitioner is “in business as an agent.” A November 20, 2009 memo now directs the USCIS service centers to accept multi-venue petitions filed by organizations that act as an agent only for the purpose of submitting a visa petition.
When seeking visa approval for an itinerary involving multiple employers or venues, the petitioner does not have to demonstrate that it normally serves as “an agent” outside of the petition process. Instead, USCIS indicates that petitioners can include a statement, signed by the various venues or employers, establishing that the petitioner is authorized to act as agent for the limited purpose of filing the petition with USCIS. We’ve posted on the Artists from Abroad website a sample form that petitioners should consider including when applying for a single visa approval on behalf of multiple venues or employers.
If an artist plans to travel to the U.S. for multiple engagements, and a single U.S. organization is submitting the visa petition, the entire petition must be carefully assembled to satisfy all USCIS requirements. Since the November memo was issued, we’ve been in communication with USCIS to seek further clarity on the petition requirements. Additional updated guidance is now available on the Artists from Abroad website, prepared under the advisement of attorney Jonathan Ginsburg of FTM Arts Law.
Learn More about How to File a Visa Petition
October 14, 2009
Important Update! New USCIS Rules for Shared Visa Petitions
Multiple orchestras engaging the same foreign guest artist to perform in the U.S. frequently work together to submit a single visa petition that will cover all engagements. Overturning nearly 20 years of this practice, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has announced new policies revoking the ability of a U.S.-based employer to file a single petition for artists coming to the U.S. for an itinerary of events with multiple arts organizations - unless the petitioner is in business as an agent.
If an artist plans to travel to the U.S. for multiple engagements, and the petitioning U.S. organization IS NOT in business as an agent, each U.S. employer must file a separate visa petition. If timing permits, consider encouraging the guest artist to await the approval of all petitions - or at least those petitions encompassing the beginning and end of the requested classification period - before visiting a U.S. consulate to process the visa. By presenting all approval notices at once (or at least the beginning and ending ones), the artist may avoid the need for multiple consular visits, interviews, and accompanying fees.
If an artist plans to travel to the U.S. for multiple engagements, and the petitioning U.S. organization IS in business as an agent, the petition must be carefully assembled to satisfy new USCIS requirements. While it is not clear what documentation is needed to prove that the petitioner is "in business as an agent," we suggest that the agent include a signed Appointment of Agent Form.
USCIS warns that multiple-employer petitions filed by any petitioner not in business as an agent will be approved only for the period of time covering the petitioner's direct employment of the artist. Follow the new guidance we've posted on www.artistsfromabroad.org to prevent petition rejections or time-consuming re-filing for engagements not included in a petition approval.
Learn More About Who Can Serve as a Petitioner
Support League Efforts to Reverse this Policy
The League is working with partners in the national performing arts community to reverse this detrimental, costly, and unjustified policy shift by USCIS. We ask that you please contact the League's Washington, D.C. office and keep us informed of the impact of this policy on your orchestra, whether it results in increasing costs, changes in scheduling, or any other kind of difficulty you may encounter.
Inform the League About Your Visa Experience
August 20, 2009
Act to Avoid Visa Delays
If your orchestra engages international artists, please be aware of the following visa trends and act to avoid delays! The League, together with our colleagues in the Performing Arts Alliance, American Federation of Musicians, and NAPAMA, recently met with senior officials at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) headquarters and are calling for improved visa policies.
Recent developments at USCIS, the federal agency that processes artist visa petitions, are causing delays. USCIS is responding to many well-assembled visa petitions with unusual and time consuming requests for additional evidence. Also, contradicting current regulations and previously-approved practice, USCIS has recently rejected some "multiple venue" petitions, in which a single orchestra applies for a visa on behalf of multiple orchestras engaging the same the artist.
Filing your petition as soon as an artist is confirmed can provide the necessary cushion to help absorb unexpected USCIS delays. USCIS will accept visa petitions filed up to one year in advance of a performance. Find more details on the Artists from Abroad web site.
Help Us Help You
If your orchestra receives an unusual request for evidence, or is denied the opportunity to file a multiple venue petition, please let us know. Your specific case examples are essential to improving artist visa policies
May 1, 2009
Artist Visa Act Reintroduced
Learn About the ARTS Act and League Visa Services
September 30, 2008
Clarification on Accountable Plan Rules!
The League has recently obtained important clarification from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) regarding expense payments for foreign guest artists. As you likely know, published and verbal guidance from the IRS has been confusing and contradictory on the question of whether expense reimbursements and payments made to third parties on behalf of foreign artists are subject to withholding. Previous guidance from the IRS - including guidance provided during League-hosted webinars and sessions this past summer - has indicated that these payments are subject to withholding. The newest word from the IRS, however, indicates otherwise.
The most recent verbal guidance from the IRS, as well as the IRS’s written guidance, indicates that the "accountable plan rules" are applicable to nonresident aliens working as independent contractors in the United States. In effect, an expense reimbursement made to a foreign artist in accordance with these rules is not reportable as income – and is not subject to 30% withholding. The accountable plan rules also apply to expenses paid to third parties on the artist’s behalf (e.g., hotel accommodations and/or travel paid for or provided by a presenter). Learn more about the rules - and exceptions - in our updated guidance regarding payments subject to withholding on the Artists from Abroad web site.
July 15, 2008
Steer Clear of IRA Penalties
If your orchestra engages musicians from abroad, it's important to know that the tax rules are very different than the usual procedures for U.S. musicians. To help orchestras avoid IRS penalties, the League offered two webinars on this topic in May and continues to provide online technical assistance. Visit Artists from Abroad and check out the tax section for updated guidance and links to all of the forms needed to comply with IRS rules.
April 1, 2008
Artist Visa Act Passes in the House!
Today the U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation to improve the artist visa process! The "Arts Require Timely Service (ARTS) Act", H.R. 1312, is sponsored by Rep. Howard Berman (D-CA) and 12 other bipartisan leaders, and would improve the reliability, efficiency, and affordability of the artist visa process by requiring USCIS 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 30 days.
Before the ARTS Act can be signed into law, it must next be approved in the Senate. The House bill will soon move to the Senate for consideration, where the groundwork for support has already been set by Sens. John Kerry (D-MA) and Orrin Hatch (R-UT) who introduced a similar provision, S. 2178. The League will continue working closely with the Senate to advance this measure and bolster support as the bill heads toward a vote. Congratulations! Your advocacy has advanced this issue through the House!
Learn More about the Vote
November 8, 2007
Congress Acts to Improve Visa Process
Advocacy by the nonprofit performing arts sector, including recent targeted advocacy efforts by orchestras, is producing results on the Hill.
Yesterday, legislation to improve the visa process for artists was approved by the House Judiciary commitee. The "Arts Require Timely Service (ARTS) Act", sponsored by Rep. Howard Berman (D-CA) and 10 other bipartisan congressional leaders, would make the artist visa process more reliable, efficient, and affordable for nonprofit arts-related petitioners.
In yesterday's House committee action, amendments that would have drastically limited the effectiveness of the ARTS Act were defeated and the Act was approved for consideration by the full U.S. House of Representatives.
An identical provision, S. 2178, has been introduced by Sens. John Kerry (D-MA) and Orrin Hatch (R-UT). As Congress finishes its work for 2007, the League and our colleagues in the Performing Arts Visa Task Force will continue to advance these improvements to the visa process. We will keep you posted regarding specific, strategic advocacy opportunities!
Inside Tips for Your Next Petition
In late September, the League met with top officials at the processing unit in California - one of two locations that processes all arts-related visa petitions -to describe the visa obstacles encountered by orchestras and gain insights into the petition process.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services officials were welcoming, listened to the concerns of arts petitioners, and provided helpful information about the current visa process. The California processing center alone receives nearly 60,000 petitions each month for a wide array of visa classifcations for workers and visitors traveling to the United States. Simply getting an artist's petition through the mailroom can be a significant challenge.
We've updated the ArtistsfromAbroad.org web site to reflect new tips that can help your visa petition makes its way more quickly and reliably.
IRS to Step Up Tax Enforcement
Foreign artists are subject to specific tax withholding rules. The IRS has recently announced plans to beef up enforcement of these withholding requirements. According to an IRS official, "The bottom line is the IRS is concerned that foreign athletes and entertainers pay their fair share of withholding tax and do the proper reporting for earnings in the United States."
To be sure your orchestra is familiar with the tax requirements for foreign guest artists, please consult the tax section of the Artists from Abroad web site.
As the IRS considers creating new guidance and outreach regarding foreign artist withholding, the League and our national partners are conveying the unique concerns of the nonprofit performing arts community.