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USCIS Works to Improve Processing of Visas for Artists

After years of complaints about the visa application process for foreign athletes and performing artists, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is making an effort to speed up and improve the consistency of its visa operations.

The New York Times reported that USCIS is working to improve its performance in fulfilling O and P visas used by athletes and artists who wish to temporarily work in the United States. To obtain an O or P visa, the applicant must demonstrate to USCIS “Extraordinary Ability” in his or her field.

The backlog and delays that plague the current system have resulted from the increased security requirements necessitated by the aftermath of the terror attacks of September 11, 2001, and from “premium processing service,” which has slowed the standard processing of visa applications.

The impact of processing delays on arts organizations, orchestras and promoters has been problematic, especially when performers are not granted a visa or do not obtain their visa in time to participate in scheduled performances.

Problems of Distinction

The Times details the Chicago Opera Theater’s challenge of having to provide additional evidence to corroborate the visa requirement that the artists have achieved sufficient renown. The requirement for the visa states:

O-1: Extraordinary ability in the field of arts means distinction. Distinction means a high level of achievement in the field of the arts evidenced by a degree of skill and recognition substantially above that ordinarily encountered to the extent that a person described as prominent is renowned, leading or well known in the field of arts.”

Consequently, the Chicago Opera Theater obtained at the last minute visas for only two of the three performers and had to find a replacement for the third artist.

The efforts by USCIS have not led to an immediate fix for the delays. The British ska band “the Specials” canceled their appearance in Central Park this summer due to visa problems.

Because of the highly technical nature of most immigration law, and visa applications in particular, and the time-sensitive itineraries of performers, artists and athletes, consulting an immigration attorney well in advance of any tour or performances assures expert navigation of this complicated process.

Form I-129 and O-1B Requirements

An immigration attorney can quickly advise a client about the type of documentation necessary to ensure timely processing of any application. The applicant must complete a form I-129, a 26-page document that has a 23-page set of instructions.

In addition to form I-129, the following is an excerpt from the USCIS website, listing the evidentiary criteria necessary to apply for an O-1B visa, used for individuals with an extraordinary ability in the arts or extraordinary achievement in motion picture or television industry:

Evidence that the beneficiary has received, or been nominated for, significant national or international awards or prizes in the particular field, such as an Academy Award, Emmy, Grammy or Director’s Guild Award, or evidence of at least (3) three of the following:

Performed or will perform services as a lead or starring participant in productions or events which have a distinguished reputation as evidenced by critical reviews, advertisements, publicity releases, publications, contracts or endorsements

Achieved national or international recognition for achievements, as shown by critical reviews or other published materials by or about the beneficiary in major newspapers, trade journals, magazines, or other publications

Performed or will perform in a lead, starring, or critical role for organizations and establishments that have a distinguished reputation as evidenced by articles in newspapers, trade journals, publications, or testimonials.

A record of major commercial or critically acclaimed successes, as shown by such indicators as title, rating or standing in the field, box office receipts, motion picture or television ratings and other occupational achievements reported in trade journals, major newspapers or other publications

Received significant recognition for achievements from organizations, critics, government agencies or other recognized experts in the field in which the beneficiary is engaged, with the testimonials clearly indicating the author’s authority, expertise and knowledge of the beneficiary’s achievements

A high salary or other substantial remuneration for services in relation to others in the field, as shown by contracts or other reliable evidence

If the above standards do not readily apply to the beneficiary’s occupation in the arts, the petitioner may submit comparable evidence in order to establish eligibility (this exception does not apply to the motion picture or television industry).

Why You Want an Immigration Attorney

Just as artists and atheletes are trained specialists in their field of endeavor, immigration attorneys practice specifically in this complex area of the law. Hiring an experienced immigration law attorney to assist with O or P visa applications saves time and expense and eases the burden of trying to understand this intricate process without professional guidance.

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