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U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Pledges to Improve Visa Processing for Foreign Artists and Athletes

The head of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has pledged to speed up and improve its visa processing for foreign performing artists and athletes. Responding to years of complaints about slow and inconsistent processing, USCIS director Alejandro Mayorkas has promised:

  • Broad review of its visa guidelines
  • Increased staff training
  • Greater consistency in judging visa petitions
  • Processing of visa petitions in 14 days

Arts organizations have long lamented the frustrating process, as some adjudications have taken up to 120 days, and delays and requests for more information frequently seem arbitrary. However, USCIS officials now report that standard applications for the types of visas used most often by foreign performers and athletes - O and P visas - will be adjudicated within two weeks.

Lawyers, managers, human resources personnel and other arts advocates say the problems started in 2001, when the government began offering premium visa processing, which guarantees 15-day service for a higher fee. Following that change and increased security concerns after the September 11 terrorist attacks, a slow-down began for standard-service visa applications. Even more, varying adherence to USCIS guidelines by adjudicators has created an unpredictability that can interfere with large contracts and touring schedules.

O Visas and P Visas

O and P are the classifications of visas most commonly used by visiting foreign artists and athletes. O visas are only available to people with extraordinary ability in sciences, arts, education, business or athletics and motion picture or TV production. P visas are available to internationally-recognized athletes, entertainers or members of internationally-recognized entertainment groups as well as participants in reciprocal exchange or culturally unique programs.

Generally, the application and adjudication procedures for O and P visas are different than other visa processes. With an O or P visa, artists and athletes visit the United States as temporary nonimmigrant workers. Other visa applicants often immigrate to the U.S. through legal permanent residency, or a "green card," to live and work in the U.S permanently.

In addition, for O and P visas, an applicant must provide evidence of his or her international renown, recognition or level of performance or achievement. Other criteria sometimes require evidence of cultural uniqueness or participation in a reciprocal exchange program.

Hopefully, fans, managers, artists and athletes will see improvements in O and P visa processing. Mayorkas promised change, saying, "When I make a commitment, it is a benchmark that I am setting for our agency upon which the public should be able to rely."

If you need help applying for an O or P Visa, or have other visa-related questions, contact an experienced immigration attorney in your area.

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