Shari Rezai, an Iranian-American concert promoter, was planning on bringing two Persian jazz bands to the U.S. this summer. But the Trump Administration’s travel ban for citizens of Iran and six other countries has forced her to put those plans on hold. One of the bands is Manushan. By email, the lead singer of the group, Aida Nosrat, said she lives in France on an artists’ visa, but has Iranian citizenship, so now she cannot travel to the U.S.
Venues are often booked months in advance, and it can also take months to get visas, Rezai says.
“The process needs to happen now,” she says. Rezai still hopes the ban will be rescinded and she can get back to business, but the pace of events has left her feeling distressed. “We can’t believe this is happening in the USA. Every day is more bad news, more bad news. It’s just insane. It’s absolute insanity.”
Such feeling are common in the Iranian community, especially after National Security Advisor Michael Flynn announced that he was putting Iran “on notice.” But the concerns about the ease of travel go well beyond citizens of the seven restricted countries.
In Hollywood, one of the major concerns regards an underappreciated provision of Trump’s order, which suspended the visa interview waiver program. Before the order, holders of work visas could renew them through the mail. But the order suspended that program, meaning that foreign citizens — including A-list actors from countries such as the United Kingdom and Australia — must now schedule an in-person interview at a U.S. embassy.
“The schedules of these A-list actors are really tight,” said attorney Dora Komura, who said she has said one “quite famous and recognizable” Australian client who will have to travel outside the U.S. to renew his visa.
Such obstacles, if the waiver program is not reinstated, could pose delays for productions, said attorney Eileen Chun-Fruto. “It sends this message that the government trusts nobody at this point,” she said. “It’s affecting innocent people who have legitimate business reasons to travel.”
In the entertainment industry, the greatest immediate impact has been felt among Iranians, especially Iranian musicians. But as pilot season gets underway, casting directors may have second thoughts about casting actors from other Middle Eastern countries, for fear that those countries could be added to the list of restricted countries.
“It’s going to have a big chilling effect on hiring,” says attorney Kate Raynor. “I have had a lot of calls from people that do casting, and they’re very concerned.”
Studios and production companies are used to getting expedited service. For O-1 visas, companies can pay a $1,225 fee to get a determination within two weeks. But with the interview waiver program suspended, Raynor worries that work at consular offices could slow down considerably.
“We won’t have the same ability to rush visas,” she said. “They’re already backlogged.”
Lorraine D’Alessio, who also handles immigration issues for the entertainment industry, says that some clients are getting closer scrutiny than they would have earlier, and it’s taking longer to get applications approved.
“There’s a tremendous amount of anxiety and fear,” she said.
Correction: An earlier version of this story identified Pallett as a band whose concerts were canceled due to the visa travel ban. The band later stated that it had to plans to tour, and Rezai clarified that the plans had been canceled for other reasons.
Update: This post has been updated to identify Manushan as one of the groups affected by the travel ban.