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Entertainment Visas For Foreign Artists

For many years Americans have enjoyed the ability to see and hear magnificent ethnic artistry without ever having to leave our country. Many foreign artists and performers dream about coming to the United States to entertain their ethnic compatriots living in the U.S, as well as appreciative American-born audiences. As the result, we can enjoy colorful traditional costumes, unusual musical instruments and rhythms, and dances and artistry of all descriptions and nationalities.

To make their dreams reality, foreign artists must run the gauntlet of U.S. immigration law requirements. As is the case for many other countries, the U.S. is not easy to enter legally, even for talented foreign artists.

The U.S. is one of the few countries that require foreign artists to have special visas in order to enter. The Department of Homeland Security calls it the “P,” or, “Performer” visa. Every artist coming here, whether for a single small event or a lengthy tour involving dozens of performances in many states, must have a sponsoring U.S. company that will apply for the P Visa on the performer’s behalf. These sponsors are usually artist management companies and agencies.

The visa process must start well before the artist’s planned visit. Even a short trip to the United States must be well-organized and supported by legal documents submitted at least six months in advance. The sponsoring agency must arrange the venues, schedule the performances and start promoting the events before the foreign artist can even apply for a visa!

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Citizenship and Immigration Services specify four different types of P visas, with subcategories for each type. The categories and their distinct application processes are so complicated that most sponsoring agencies enlist the help of specialized immigration attorney.

Once the P visa type and sub category are chosen the attorney must assemble a document called an “advisory opinion”. It’s a statement from an appropriate labor union or trade organization stating that the applicant performer appears to be artistically qualified and that his or her performances are so unique that they won’t compete with and take business away from resident American artists. The advisory opinion, together with documentation of the artists’ skill and performing experience, the sponsoring agent’s history of business operations, and the planned performance or appearance venues and schedule, is submitted to the U.S.Citizenship and Immigration Services.

Upon USCIS approval the artist must undergo additional scrutiny by the U.S. Department of State, including an interview at the U.S. embassy in the artist’s home country. Once that is completed, an embassy official approves the visa, stamps it onto the artist’s passport and return it. The artist is finally ready to go!

Each of these steps requires money and time. And there is always the risk of delay or denial. A labor union or U.S. government agency may ask for more information, freezing the application process until they get it. Remember that the performance venues and schedules have already been set and promotion began to support the P visa application. Even a short delay can throw these plans into disarray and forced rescheduling or even cancellation of planned events.

So, the next time you sit down for an evening of entertainment featuring a foreign ballet or a troupe of acrobats or folk dancers, take a moment to appreciate all of the hard work and preparation that began months ago, and the variety of legal and management professionals who worked together to make possible the pageantry and artistry you have come to see.

For any questions, please call ilexlaw PLLC in Washington, DC, at our phone number is 202-367-9138. Our email is