June 9, 2021

Today, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced policy changes that will support improved visa processing, specifying opportunities for artist visa petitioners. Action by USCIS today:

  • Restores the ability for a nonprofit organization whose request is “in furtherance of the cultural and social interests of the United States” to request discretionary expedited service, even when premium processing is available. In 2019, the USCIS revoked this specific eligibility criterion from its “traditional expedite” process, which is available for those that have filed a visa petition and are in need of rapid visa processing due to emergency circumstances beyond their control. To be clear, these cases are considered on a case-by-case basis, and this process is not a replacement for filing a timely visa application. The new traditional expedite criteria are effective immediately, and are a strong indication that USCIS is tuning in to the needs of artist-related visa petitioners.
  • Ensures that petitioners submitting a visa application are given an opportunity to correct innocent mistakes and unintentional omissions before an application is denied. New guidance (PDF) issued to USCIS petition reviewers emphasizes that visa officers should only issue requests for additional evidence and denials when absolutely necessary.

Serious challenges with the artist visa process have been present long before the additional limitations of recent COVID-19 travel restrictions. The League of American Orchestras has partnered with the wider arts and cultural sector to seek the policy improvements announced today, and continues to pursue additional USCIS policy improvements (PDF) that are urgently needed to make the artist visa process more predictable, reliable, and affordable–all to support ongoing international cultural activity. As orchestras continue to build immediate plans for future concert activity, the League has also partnered with other national arts stakeholders to seek State Department solutions to COVID-19-related travel restrictions (PDF).

The changes announced today have been immediately reflected in the USCIS policy manual. We will keep you informed with more information about navigating the visa process as these new policies are put to the test. To find out more information about the visa process, please visit the League’s dedicated website, Artists from Abroad, where we continue to provide updated guidance on this and the full array of artist visa developments. Orchestras experiencing difficulty with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services or State Department parts of the visa and travel process are encouraged to contact our DC office for assistance.

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