New regulation expedites U.S. entry for artists

WASHINGTON — Showbiz employers and impresarios are greeting with mixed reviews a new regulation from the Immigration and Naturalization Service aimed at expediting the processing of visas for foreign entertainers.

Put in effect last week was a new rule under which the INS will process the applications of numerous classes of visas within 15 working days if the request is accompanied by a $1,000 premium processing fee.

INS will guarantee a visa petitioner “initial adjudication” within that period when the fee is paid.

Unless the fee is either paid or waived under an emergency procedure, the standard approval process may take 60 days or more, the INS has warned. Included in the rule are O and P visa classifications commonly used by artists and athletes.

The regulation is seen as good news for TV and film producers who rely on overseas talent.

“If the INS is able to use the revenue properly by hiring additional workers, the new rule will benefit all concerned,” said Alan Klein, an L.A.-based immigration attorney.

But the regulation is drawing sour notices from nonprofit arts orgs that insist it puts them in a bureaucratic Catch 22.

Nonprofits are exempt from paying the new fee and can qualify for the priority service if they have an emergency. But they fear they’ll be forced to pay the fee anyway to ensure that their petitions aren’t relegated to steerage if their emergency petitions are nixed.

They say the premium fee, on top of the normal $110 processing fee, is simply too much for arts orgs to pay.

“It may have serious repercussions for international presenting organizations like the Los Angeles Philharmonic, which are constantly working with changing schedules, cancellations and other matters for international artists on tight deadlines,” insisted Deborah Borda, exec VP and managing director of the L.A. Philharmonic.

Nonprofits also contend that the new regulation is distressingly vague.

The INS, for example, is not actually guaranteeing to process a visa within 15 days (the INS doesn’t process visas), but merely to determine that it would accept an individual seeking employment status.

The actual visa must still be processed in the foreign country where the alien resides. The length of that process can vary dramatically. The regulation is also silent on whether true emergency requests will be processed within 15 days.

Johnathan Ginsburg, a Fairfax, Va.-based immigration attorney who works with nonprofits, said the new scheme punishes arts orgs.

“If you’re a nonprofit and exempt from the $1,000 fee, what do you do? The INS says it’s preserving the existing system for expedites for nonprofits. Yet it’s impossible to believe it will grant anywhere near as many expedites once the fee is in place as it does now. The whole mindset will have changed.”

Two D.C.-based arts lobbying orgs, the American Arts Alliance and the Assn. of Performing Arts Presenters, are seeking clarification of the rule.

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