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American Visa Rules Frustrate Foreign Performers

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Fela - Oriental Theatre
Fela – Oriental Theatre

We are deprived of culture because of the morons in Washington, and their intricate, bureaucratic ballet supporting terrorism theatre. Many artists don’t even bother trying to come here anymore, it’s too costly, and too much of a hassle.

In the decade since the attacks on the twin towers, American visa procedures for foreign artists and performers have grown increasingly labyrinthine, expensive and arbitrary, arts presenters and immigration lawyers say, making the system a serious impediment to cultural exchanges with the rest of the world.

Some foreign performers and ensembles, like the Hallé orchestra from Britain, have decided that it is no longer worth their while to play in the United States. Others have been turned down flat, including a pair of bands invited to perform at the South by Southwest festival in Austin, Tex., last month, or have ended up canceling performances because of processing delays, as was the case last month with the Tantehorse theater troupe from the Czech Republic, which was booked to perform in suburban Washington.

Overall, according to Homeland Security Department records, requests for the standard foreign performer’s visa declined by almost 25 percent between 2006 and 2010, the most recent fiscal year for which statistics are available. During the same period the number of these visa petitions rejected, though small in absolute numbers, rose by more than two-thirds.

“Everything is much more difficult,” said Palma R. Yanni, a former president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association who also handles artists’ visas. “I didn’t think it could get worse than it was after 9/11, but the last couple of years have been terrible. It just seems like you have to fight for everything across the board, even for artists of renown. The standards have not changed, but the agency just keeps narrowing the criteria, raising the bar without notice or comment, reinterpreting things and just making everything more restrictive. We call it the culture of no.”

(click here to continue reading U.S. Visa Rules Frustrate Foreign Performers – NYTimes.com.)

Chicago At Large
Chicago At Large

It isn’t a new problem:

For example, earlier this year [2010] the agency held up three applications for visiting musicians with the Chicago Opera Theater, requesting an unusual amount of evidence to corroborate the visa requirement that the artists have achieved sufficient renown. The company eventually went over its budget to hire an immigration lawyer, who got two of the musicians into the country at the 11th hour; the third had to be replaced, said Roger Weitz, the company’s general manager.

Many arts groups say that under Mr. Mayorkas, a Cuban immigrant who was sworn in last August, their sometimes frosty relationship with Citizenship and Immigration Services has begun to thaw. Agency officials met with arts groups in April, and have recently begun soliciting comments about egregious experiences with the visa process.

Although the agency’s policies have not changed, some have been clarified for the benefit of visa applicants, and Mr. Mayorkas insisted that the commitment is genuine.

“When I make a commitment,” he said, “it is a benchmark that I am setting for our agency upon which the public should be able to rely.”

Artist representatives say that more work needs to be done to streamline the process. “This is a great start but not where we would like to see things end up,” said Tom Windish, a booking agent for independent rock bands.

And for fans, the bad news about cancellations is not likely to end anytime soon. On Thursday, for example, the reunited British ska band the Specials canceled its appearance next month at Central Park SummerStage. The reason: “visa issues.”

(click here to continue reading U.S. Seeks to Reassure Arts Groups About Visas – NYTimes.com.)

Street Musician circa 1996
Street Musician circa 1996

Even international icon Ibrahim Ferrer was denied travel to the US to accept accolades from the Grammys, a travesty especially since Mr. Ferrer died soon after…

2004, HAVANA – The United States refused to grant visas to world-renowned Cuban musicians who were invited to Sunday’s Grammy music awards, Cuban officials said.

Cuban singer Ibrahim Ferrer of the Buena Vista Social Club, seen here in 2003, was denied a visa by the US authorities. (AFP/DDP/File) Ibrahim Ferrer, the 76-year-old singer from the Grammy-nominated Buena Vista Social Club, was dumbfounded to learn that, according to the Cuban Music Institute, the United States invoked a law that applies to terrorists, drug dealers and dangerous criminals to deny him a visa.

“I don’t understand because I don’t feel I’m a terrorist. I am not, I can’t be,” he said at a news conference.

Ferrer has won three Grammys in recent years and has traveled to the United States in the past.

The other celebrated musicians who were denied visas were guitarist Manuel Galvan, pianist Guillermo Rubalcaba, percussionist Amadito Valdes, lute player Barbarito Torres and singer Eugenio Rodriguez.

(click here to continue reading US Denies Travel Visas to Grammy-Nominated Cuban Musicians.)

The pavement was alive with the sound of music
The pavement was alive with the sound of music

There really is no excuse the US Government can make, other than an increase in jingoism…

The Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles had to cancel scheduled performances last year of an Argentine music group because California immigration officials challenged whether its fusion of Jewish klezmer music and tango met the requirement to be “culturally unique.”

In other cases, California officials also challenged visa petitions in the last year that aimed to bring in an Indian group to perform at a California festival honoring the Hindu goddess Durga, a Chicago opera company seeking to bring in a Spanish singer and an African musical group.

“In the past year and a half, what we’ve seen is petitions that previously and typically were approved are being denied,” said Heather Noonan of the League of American Orchestras. “It impacts the whole range of arts disciplines. The cumulative effect makes the process of engaging international talent very challenging.”

Slow processing times had been a major concern. Chad Smith, the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s vice president of artistic planning, said the delays began after the 9/11 terrorist attacks but had worsened in recent years, forcing his organization to pay an extra $1,000 per case for expedited visa processing.

“The need for premium processing greatly impacted our bottom line,” he said.

Immigration experts also questioned whether California officials were sufficiently trained to competently evaluate their visa petitions.

Barnett, for instance, said immigration officials have challenged visa petitions from his world-renowned organization by asking for proof that Scripps is an educational nonprofit organization.

“Twenty seconds on the Internet could have shown you that,” Barnett said. “Is this just ignorance?”

Immigration attorneys have also complained that they have been repeatedly asked to provide evidence to meet standards that are not required by law.

For example, California officials asked for proof that an Indian dance group had been together for at least a year and that an African musical group would perform only at “culturally unique” venues that did not include its scheduled appearances at universities, said Andi Floyd, a legal assistant who worked on the petitions for Virginia immigration attorney Jonathan Ginsburg. Attorneys had to point out that neither requirement was in the visa law; officials eventually approved the African petition but have not yet acted on the Indian one, Floyd said.

 

(click here to continue reading Immigration agency working to fix visa denials to artists, others – Los Angeles Times.)

Written by Seth Anderson

April 12th, 2012 at 8:52 am

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