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AFM Opposes Proposed USCIS Visa Increases

The AFM strongly opposes increasing O and P visa fees as proposed by the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). The USCIS is very short-sighted in its proposal, as imposing such increases will vastly limit international touring and arts collaborations.

In a letter sent February 8, 2023 (below), to Congressman Bennie Thompson (D-MS), Ranking Member on the House Homeland Security Committee, AFM President Ray Hair asked the USCIS to reconsider the increase in visa fees, which would irreparably damage local, state, and federal investment in the US arts and entertainment business.

Drastic fee increases will stifle international cultural activity and have a negative economic ripple effect on communities supported by arts events. This fee increase is excessive and unsustainable and your voices are sorely needed to drive this point home. Opposition comments can be made online through the US Federal Register Portal. We have posted a link on the AFM.org homepage, under Latest News. All AFM members are encouraged to click on this link and submit comments to the USCIS prior to the deadline: March 6, 2023 at 11:59 p.m. EST.

Dear Ranking Member Bennie Thompson:

First, let me thank you for the decades of help you and your staff have provided in the area of immigration assistance for the thousands of professional musicians who have navigated complex USCIS regulations. Your work has made it possible for musicians and musical artists to safely and efficiently enter the United States and provide meaningful performances, generating revenue for the US treasury from the economic boost generated when Americans attend and spend their dollars on show tickets, restaurants, public transportation, parking, and other additional expenses in order to attend and enjoy the excitement and beauty of musical performances.

However, because of fee increases proposed by USCIS that target foreign musical ensembles, this revenue is now under severe threat of elimination because musicians who book themselves annually will not be able to travel to the United States due to proposed increases in fee obligation. In addition, as the national organization designated by the US government to provide consultation letters for every musical group making a visa application to enter the United States, assistance from our organization toward the US entertainment industry would be jeopardized.

I write to request that you encourage the USCIS to reconsider this untenable and unsustainable increase in visa fees, which would irreparably damage local, state, and federal investment in the US arts and entertainment business.

Detailed Background:

The American Federation of Musicians of the United States and Canada strongly opposes the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service’s proposed increases of 251% ($460 to $1,615 per petition) to the P categories of artist visa, and 260% ($460 to $1,655 per petition) to the O categories of artist visa. These increases also include a surcharge of $600 per petition to fund the Asylum Program Fee.

International touring artists and American businesses who are still recovering from the worldwide pandemic shutdown, cannot bear the burden of such fees, most especially funding of the Asylum Program. The proposed increases are unreasonable, and are well beyond any cost-of-living increase, even at today’s inflation rate.

USCIS is very short-sighted in its proposal, as imposing such increases will vastly limit international touring, which generates considerable revenue for the American economy overall, not just for the USCIS services, in providing work permits and visas. Not only do international touring artists pay 30% or more in Federal and State taxes combined on their performance earnings, but their concert attendees patronize restaurants and hotels, fill music venues, generate revenues from ticket sales, and provide employment in the arts sector overall. For example, for a 1-week tour, most music groups budget a minimum of $ 3,000 USD per person for lodging, meals and transportation alone. The AFM processes P2 visas for upwards of 2,000 Canadian music groups per year, which tour the US multiple times in the course of one year.

Within the USCIS submission, “the service” recognizes that impacted US businesses and international artists may find the proposed increase difficult to afford. One solution USCIS offered for those impacted is to rely upon credit cards and loans. This suggestion is shocking, as credit and loan deficits will further harm the global economy—most particularly in the live performance sector that was decimated from the impact of COVID-19.

Also, USCIS has stated that these fee increases are partially necessary to improve processing times. However, in 2021 USCIS implemented an increase to its Premium Processing Services from $1,000 to $2,500. In this newest configuration, the Service has again proposed to increase the current processing time from 15 calendar days to 15 business days. Therefore, we are not confident that such a hefty increase will result in improved processing times.

There are many American entities and artists whose businesses thrive on international touring to the United States. Such increases will drive many out of the touring business and limit American artists’ ability to reach markets outside the United States. Furthermore, the music industry is globally collaborative in nature. When American artists have the ability to collaborate with international artists, it opens the door for Americans to expand into international markets. If Americans are limited to domestic earnings only, the fee increases vastly reduce their annual income as well.

While these matters are global in scope, specifically from the AFM’s standpoint and from that of the US arts community, these increases do not respect AFM’s USCIS approved Reciprocal Exchange Agreement, covering the reciprocal exchange of American and Canadian artists across respective borders. An American artist is subject to a CAN $230 work permit fee depending upon the type of engagement, but in many circumstances, Americans can enter Canada under a designation that is very similar to the United States B1-Business Visitor Visa (i.e., for little or no cost). Even at the current US $460 petition fee, the exchange is already disproportionate. The United Kingdom has a similar system to that of Canada, in that a visa fee is based upon an earnings threshold.

The vast majority of international touring artists are engaged to perform in small US performance venues, and such an agency increase would block such venues from the ability to engage international artists, thereby only leaving the larger employers, venues, and acts with access to cross-border diversity in their programming.

The AFM, along with its ad-hoc artist-visa lobbying committee (formed in 2001, comprised of many national US based arts organizations), recently met with Janis Reyes, in-house attorney, Office of Interagency Affairs, US Small Business Administration, who will be moving our concerns forward along with others, such as the farming community as one example, which will also be unduly impacted should these proposed increases be implemented.

We do understand that some form of increase to the visa permit may be required, but we strongly urge that any such increase be limited, and should be well below the proposed 251%+ increase proposed by USCIS. The arts community does not have the resources to supplement United States asylum and humanitarian programs. Such programs should be supplemented by the US government or businesses that operate within the multimillion dollar range.

While we write on behalf of musical artists, if these increases are realized they will also negatively impact dancers, actors, athletes, visual artists, and many others working in the various artistic disciplines. I kindly ask that you help us mitigate these unfathomable increases and spread the word among members of your committee to persuade USCIS to reconsider the newly-proposed fee configuration.

Thank you again, Bennie, on behalf of talented professional musicians and musical artists in the American entertainment industry. As usual, feel free to contact my office at 212-869-1330. Or you can contact AFM Legislative Director Alfonso Pollard at 718-679-5366. Thank you in advance for your consideration.

Sincerely yours,

Raymond M. Hair, Jr., AFM International President

P2 Visa Fee Increase by US Government on Pause

The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California has issued a nationwide preliminary injunction that at least paused, for now, the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) plan to implement fee increases and new forms, which were originally scheduled to go into effect on October 2, 2020. USCIS has acknowledged the injunction, although Deputy Director of Policy Joseph Edlow called it “an unfortunate decision that leaves USCIS underfunded by millions of dollars each business day the fee rule is enjoined.”

The planned changes include increasing O visa fees from $460 to $705 and P visa fees from $460 to $695. For now, when filing for O and P guest artist visas, musicians should continue to file with the $460 filing fee, advises Liana White, executive director of the AFM Canadian Office. 

The USCIS website for Form I-129 states that the department will accept USCIS forms with the current editions and current fees, and it will use the regulations and guidance currently in place to adjudicate applications and petitions. AFM’s immigration administrators are continually monitoring USCIS communications for the latest information before completing and submitting a visa petition, White says.

In other USCIS fee news, the signed legislation that ensures the US government is funded through December 11, 2020 included a section that authorizes USCIS to increase and expand the Premium Processing Service (PPS) fees for certain immigration-related applications. In most cases, the current $1,440 fee for premium processing is now authorized to increase to $2,500 and the O and P guest artist visas would fall into this category. The fee change went into effect on October 19. 

The bill also authorizes the Secretary of Homeland Security to establish and collect a premium fee for “any other immigration benefit type that the secretary deems appropriate for premium processing,” and premium fees may be adjusted every two years.

The bill directs the secretary to develop processes that do not result in an increase in processing times for immigration benefit requests not designated for premium processing or an increase in regular processing of immigration benefit requests so designated.

Foreign SXSW Musicians Denied Entry

Some foreign musicians attempting to enter the US to perform at South by Southwest (SXSW) have been turned away, and in certain cases even arrested and detained overnight after attempting to use the wrong type of entry visa. Performers arriving to tour in the US typically enter using a P-1 or P-2 “performance” visas. However, the musicians turned away thought they were legally allowed to perform in unpaid “showcase” events using a B-1 tourist visas.

Visa information on the SXSW website states: “Foreign artists entering the US to perform both at SXSW and at any other public performance, whether for compensation or not, must obtain work visas. In general, these work visas will be either an O or P visa, depending on the specific situation. Citizens of 38 countries may be eligible to register under ESTA and enter the US under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP), or apply for a B visa instead … We encourage you to be very careful when using the VWP Program to perform at SXSW, the guidelines to do so are very strict.”


Visa Fee

USCIS Announces Visa Fee Increase for Foreign Musicians Performing in the US

Pour la version française cliquez ici.

In October, the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced that the fees for O and P visa applications would increase by 42%, from $325 US to $460 per petition, effective December 20. The AFM, along with its long-standing coalition of (US-based) nonprofit arts organizations, spoke out in one strong voice against the increase during the comment period after the USCIS proposed the increase this past spring.

The AFM of course recognizes that this increase adds a significant burden to its Canadian members and to other musicians worldwide. In a November 2 teleconference initiated by USCIS, the AFM urged the USCIS to respond to its current lack of quality in service and to press for vast improvements and consistency in processing times—especially now that it has increased the fee. Unfortunately, the response by USCIS officials was noncommittal, and in general, stated that all increases recently imposed (which were not only on artist/athlete visas) were necessary to maintain overall operations.

To avoid paying the new fee, at least at
the outset, completed P-2 visa applications from AFM Canadian members must be received by the AFM no later than Monday, December 19, 2016 (with the current fee of $325 USD). Applications received on or after December 20 will need to have the new fee ($460 USD) included.

Also, be reminded that the AFM is recommending 120 calendar days (four months) processing time (unless filing premium processing, requiring 30 calendar days). While these processing time recommendations are fairly accurate, this timeline is an estimate, subject to increase or decrease by USCIS. The USCIS is not required to provide advance notice of changes to processing times. AFM’s P-2 administrative team monitors USCIS processing times weekly, in an effort to provide as solid a timeline as possible to membership.

At the very least, the AFM coalition had hoped to receive news that processing times would vastly improve, as had happened immediately after the last USCIS increase in the summer of 2010. While it may be hard to believe, especially considering the processing times and fees for Canadians, the USCIS artist visa process is more simplified and less costly than it is for all other musicians across the globe who enter the US under the same permits.

“The AFM does everything possible to make the process easier on members and will work with each case to try and maximize the cost and permit length so members can get the most out of their time and money,” says CFM Executive Director Liana White.

For additional information and questions on the AFM’s lobbying initiatives to improve access to the US, or the AFM’s role as a petitioner of artist permits, please email Liana White (lwhite@afm.org).

US Visa

Planning for a Successful US Visa

Getting a work permit (O or P visa) for the US as a foreign artist (or nonresident alien) requires a lot of advance planning and thoughtful consideration of the time required for the many steps involved, including the possibility of unavoidable delays.

It’s an unfortunate circumstance that artists are often unable to enter the US to perform because they simply run out of time for the visa process. Here are some suggestions:

First, an artist should start the process as soon as possible. Even beginning a year in advance of a proposed performance date or start date in the US is not too soon. Even if contracts have not yet been signed, you can apply for a nonimmigrant work permit (O or P visa) with deal memos, emails, or letters of intent, as long as they confirm that there are performance date(s). Of course, a foreign artist cannot apply for a non-immigrant work permit but needs to appoint a petitioner (a US-based individual or entity). Gathering this evidence and appointing a petitioner takes time.

Next, the required petition materials must be gathered and prepared to form part of the petition. These materials include passport photo pages from everyone who will be performing (passports need to be valid for six months beyond the proposed US dates), personal information, reviews, programs, biographies, letters of recommendation, lists of awards, a tour itinerary, etc. Although for the P-2 permit specifically, which for musical artists can only be obtained through the AFM, evidence of reviews, biographies, and other accomplishments are not required. It may take some time to gather this information, so start early.

Once completed, a formal petition is submitted to the USCIS office in either Vermont or California for regular or premium processing. Regular processing is less expensive than premium, but currently can take up to four months for an approval; in the case of a P-2 visa, these petitions have been taking 100 calendar days from the date of submission to the AFM. Premium Processing costs more, but USCIS guarantees a response in 15 days. However, even with premium processing, you must apply for the petition at least 25 days before entry to the US to ensure your Approval Notice will arrive in time. There is no guarantee of approval with either processing. At times, USCIS will require further evidence and this can cause unexpected delay in the process. All submitted petitions are issued a receipt number from USCIS, identifying the application.

Eventually, an approved petition will result in receipt of an I-797 form. USCIS will also send a copy of the petition to the Kentucky Consular Center for download to the Petitioner Information Management Service (PIMS). This can take a few days.

Canadian citizens, including Canadian members of the AFM, who are able to apply for P-2 visas, do not need to go to a consular interview, but can go directly to the Canada-US border with an approved I-797.

For non-Canadian citizens, once you have an approved I-797 in hand, you can schedule an appointment at your closest US Consulate. (Wait times for an interview vary from two to 40 days or more.) Go online to complete the required DS-160 Visa Application form, pay the required visa fee, and then arrive at the consulate for an interview with your DS-160 barcode page, proof of payment, and required photos. Once you have been approved for the visa, the consulate, will retain your passport, process the visa document (times vary from consulate to consulate), and make arrangements for these documents to get back to you.

Only after completing these steps are you able to go to the US with documents in hand and speak with a border official, at whose sole discretion you will be allowed into the country.

Take the time to determine the best timetable for getting through the process and ensuring that you will be able to be in the US for your performances.

I welcome your questions and concerns. Please write to me at: robert@bairdartists.com.

USCIS Visa Processing Delay Notice

by Liana White, AFM Executive Director, Canada

We regret to inform Canadian travelling musicians that USCIS, primarily the Vermont Service Center, is severely backlogged. Please note that USCIS does not notify petitioners. We find out when our files are not processed on time, are approved at the last minute, or are only approved on time after congressional intervention. While USCIS regularly posts the submission date of petitions the adjudicators are currently processing, that date is not typically applicable to the processing of artist permits, which by USCIS internal policy, should be processed within 14 calendar of days receipt.

Our regular processing time of 35-45 calendar days has now increased to a minimum of 56 calendar days—so allowing 60 calendar days or more is best. If you do not have 56+ days before you are required to enter the US, there are two options:

1) At the outset of applying, or 25 calendar days before your date of entry, pay the additional premium processing fee of $1,225US. It must be remitted under a separate money order payable to Department of Homeland Security. (This fee is in addition to the $325US petition fee payable to Department of Homeland Security).

2)  Try to arrange a congressional expedite of your petition after your file has been issued a receipt number by USCIS, which can take upwards of 20 days. Follow this process:

  1. a) The first US venue must contact their local congressional or senatorial representative.
  2. b) A congress or senate aide contacts the AFM office and sends a waiver for the AFM petitioner (staff) of your file to complete.
  3. c) The AFM petitioner returns the waiver with a copy of the USCIS issued receipt notice.
  4. d) The congress/senate aide contacts Vermont Service Center Congressional Unit, which will locate and process the petition within 48 hours. The approval is then sent to the aide who, in turn, forwards it to the AFM petitioner, who will send it to the designated contact on your file.

There is one other way offered by USCIS to expedite the process (“transitional expedite”), but it is not effective most of the time. USCIS should take internal expedite action on any artist work permit petitions that have been pending for longer than 14 days. However, in most instances, the USCIS customer service agent will not start an internal expedite until the file has been pending for 60 days or longer, making the two previous options the most viable.

In the meantime, the AFM, along with its coalition members comprising the Performing Artist Visa Task Force/Working Group, continue to lobby the USCIS and the US government for improvements to the processing of artist permits. We have recently prepared a communication to USCIS officials addressing the delayed processing of all categories of artist permits.

AFM staff will continue to serve you to the best of their abilities, but we ask for your patience and understanding during this period of backlog. Each file now requires double the work as the AFM staff does its best to get them approved as quickly as possible.

If you have any additional questions, comments, or concerns please feel free to e-mail me directly at lwhite@afm.org.

Pour la version Francaise, clique ici. 

pour la version française , cliquez ici