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Want To Perform In The USA? Here’s How To Get A Visa Now

Perform in the USA
By Dawn Chiang

Don’t let your dream of touring or working in the USA become a nightmare!  Denise Santisteban works as company manager for the Arts and Ideas Festival in New Haven, Connecticut. TheatreArtLife contributor Dawn Chiang  joined Denise to discuss how  to get a visa to perform in the USA. Do your homework, plan well in advance and follow these essential tips to success. 

TheatreArtLife: Who needs an artist visa when performing in the United States?

Denise Santisteban: Any foreign artist and their support staff who will be performing in the United States.  The visa is required for any performances, whether they be paid or unpaid engagements.

There are different categories of artist visas for which an individual or group can apply.

The petitioner is a U.S. citizen or permanent resident, or a U.S. entity (such as a presenting arts organization), that submits the I-129 petition on behalf of an alien individual or performing arts group (known as the beneficiaries).

If the visiting artists are performing at multiple events with multiple arts organizations, one of the organizations acts as the lead petitioner.  With the assistance of the other arts organizations, the lead petitioner organizes the entire petition for the tour.

The application is submitted to the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) for approval.

What visa types are available?

O1B – Individual artist visa

  • The artist must demonstrate extraordinary ability as a reason to grant this visa
  • Examples to support this extraordinary ability include press reviews, awards, grants

P1B – Performing group visa

  • Must be a minimum of two people in the performing group
  • The applicants must demonstrate international acclaim as a group
  • At least 75% of the group must have worked together for at least one year

P1S – Essential support

  • Includes technical and production staff (stage management, technical crews, tutors for touring performers)
  • At least 75% of the essential support team must have worked with the related performing group for at least one year
  • Spouses and other individuals traveling with the group, but who have not worked professionally with the artist or group for at least a year are not eligible to apply for this Essential Support visa

P3 – Culturally unique

  • Individuals or a group that present a performance that is unique to a particular country, society, class, ethnicity, religion, tribe, or other group of persons
  • P3 performers are not required to have worked together as a group for any length of time
  • The individuals or group must prove that their performance is culturally unique

The Artist visa application  (O1B/Individual Artist or P1B/Performing Group) and the Essential support visa application (P1S) are submitted together to the US Citizenship and Immigration Services. However, they are processed as two separate petitions and are separated into two different review procedures.

How long a stay for performances can I make using this visa?

If approved, the visa is valid for the length of the US tour, up to one year in length.

It is possible to be covered by a single visa for multiple entries into the United States for different paid performances, spread over a twelve-month time period.  Gaps in the performance itinerary must be explained.  Gaps of more than 45 to 60 days raise concerns by the USCIS.

What information is required for a petition?

  • Name as shown on passport, date of birth, home address, number of years affiliated with the performing group requesting a visa.
  • Copy of each individual’s passport
  • Letters of recommendation
  • Documents confirming that the petitioner and beneficiaries have the funds to finance the tour, including:
    • Government funding support
    • Formal support by sponsors
    • Any documents that can speak to the financial health and solvency of the tour to the United States
    • Budget for the US tour
    • Contract with the US presenter(s) or producer(s) preferably signed
    • Tour itinerary – Proof of payment for airfare and US accommodation
  •  Documents to support the individual’s or group’s claim of international acclaim, including:
    • Press packet, showing reviews and other press from your performances in other countries
    • All reviews and articles must be presented in their entirety, no excerpts or quotes allowed
    • Any material in a foreign language must be accompanied by a certified translation into English
    • Self-generated promotional material from the artist’s website is not permitted
    • Details of prior international performances
    • Awards
    • Details of prior tours
    • Countries where you have performed
  • Which consulate do you need to go to (i.e., US consulate in which country) to receive your visa
  • Cover letter to the USCIS
  • Labor consultation “Letter of no objection”

What is a Labor Consultation letter?

Petitioners must obtain an advisory opinion from the appropriate labor union.  This written opinion from the union is included in the petition to USCIS

Relevant performing arts unions from which a labor consultation may be required:

  • AGMA – American Guild of Musical Artists
  • AGVA – American Guild of Variety Artists
  • IATSE – International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees
  • SDC – Stage Directors and Choreographers Society
  • Actors’ Equity
  • Each union charges a fee for this review and issuing an advisory letter in support of the artist’s application
  • The union will reply directly to the petitioner

What is the review process?

  • The Department of Homeland Security reviews the application and either sends you a Request for Evidence (RFE) or sends a visa approval letter (I-797), once all questions are satisfactorily answered
  • Once cleared, the Department of Homeland Security sends a visa approval letter to the petitioner
    • This visa approval letter I-797 means that the applicant is approved to request an appointment with the relevant US Consulate near where the beneficiary will be, to apply for a visa (Form DS160)
  • DS160 requires that you apply for a visa, and be interviewed in person. Be sure to bring a hard copy of the I-797 visa approval letter to the interview
  • For the last six weeks prior to your performing group’s visit to the U.S., please be prepared to be available to the relevant US Consulate for your interview, and to be able to surrender your passport for up to two weeks to have the visa embossed into your passport

How much does it cost to submit a petition – and how long will it take?

Per person:

  • Regular (I-129) application processing fee    $460 – 30 to 120 days
  • Premium (I-907) application processing fee $1,225 – 15 calendar days (Note:  The premium application fee is in addition to the regular application fee of $460)
  • Union Advisory letter $250 (approximate)
  • DS 160 visa appointment $190 (approximate)
  • Lawyer/agent fees for filing $1,000 (or more)
  • Application papers
  • Travel to relevant US Consulate – typically allow six months in advance of the initial US performance, with Premium processing, longer if applying via Regular processing.

If the performing group is booked at a performing arts festival, often the festival staff will absorb the cost of filing the applications or have someone on their staff who will coordinate this process.

What should I watch out for in submitting a petition?

  • Substitutions are not allowed
    • Example: If Dancer A is to be replaced by Dancer B on the US tour, the application must be resubmitted, with the revised list of names and the related individual information, with proof that 75% of the revised list of performers has been working with the company for at least one year
  • On the petition, confirm that the spelling of each individual’s name matches their name shown in their passport
  • The Department of Homeland Security may issue a Request for Evidence (RFE). Examples of typical RFEs include:
    • Please provide a more detailed itinerary
    • Please describe in more detail what function and activities this essential support person performs on this tour
    • Explain why this person was not part of the performing company for a gap of 3 years
    • Show how each individual on your application merits international acclaim
    • Have you ever been arrested?

Where can I find out more information about artist visas?

An excellent resource is artistsfromabroad.org

Created by the League of American Orchestras and Association of Performing Arts Professionals (formerly the Association for Performing Arts Presenters), this website provides detailed information, forms and web links to guide guest artists through the artist visa process.  The website also provides information on United States taxation and withholding of tax on foreign performing artists.

Also about working in the USA:

Oh Visa!

So, You Want To Be An American?

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