Artists denied entry: new hope for the rejected.
Ballett Freiburg's story had a happy ending: A former company manager, with connections to the British and American consulates in Germany, rushed her passport approval. "Otherwise there was no way she would have come," says Magro. "When she got to the airport she was fingerprinted and questioned."
Bringing international artists into the U.S. has become exceedingly difficult for both performers and presenters. In the spring of 2001, INS instituted a Premium Processing Fee (PPF) that, for $1,000, expedited visa application review. "That's when the coalition was formed," says Rebecca Rorke, Dance/USA's director of government affairs. "The coalition seeks to alleviate negative repercussions of visa regulations on the nonprofit performing arts field. The coalition has worked closely with leaders in the Senate and House of Representatives and succeeded in getting three key senate offices to address our O [individual foreign artists] and P [groups of foreign artists, reciprocal exchange programs, and culturally unique artists] category visa concerns."
Following 9/11, visa processing became so logjammed that presenters felt pressured to pay the PPF to avoid the uncertainty of last-minute visa rejections. But how did the PPF initially pass, when nonprofit organizations are already financially strapped in the current economy? "At a meeting with Bill Yates [formerly of INS; now acting associate director of operations for Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services]," says immigration lawyer Jonathan Ginsburg, "[Yates] said, 'We talked to the arts.' I asked 'Who?' He said, 'We talked to Warner Brothers.' I have every respect in the world for Bill, but for INS to think they talked to someone in the arts, and it was Warner Brothers--that's not the arts, that's Hollywood." Repeated calls to Yates at BCIS were unanswered.
On March 25, Senators Ted Kennedy (D-MA), Orrin Hatch (R-UT), and Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) sent a bipartisan letter to Eduardo Aguirre Jr., BCIS's acting director, "urging the agency to improve the processing of O and P nonimmigrant visa petitions filed by, or on behalf of, nonprofit arts organizations," says Rorke.
The coalition's aims are four-pronged: First, reduce the processing time for O and P petitions filed by, or on behalf of, nonprofit arts organizations to a maximum of thirty days, and specify that failure to comply with this deadline automatically moves the petition to the PPF service for consideration within fifteen calendar days, without an additional fee; second, permit O and P visa applications to be filed one year before the proposed employment will begin; third, update the petition form and instructions for O and P visas, which are outdated and inaccurate; and fourth, implement uniform policies, procedures, and training at BCIS Service Centers for handling all petitions. Has Dance/USA heard any response? "No," Rorke said in late April.
But how can smaller presenting institutions handle the time-consuming application and visa fees, or lesser-known dance companies from abroad compile visa applications when they have not yet garnered reviews or international acclaim? Movement deepens cultural understanding; current visa restrictions prevent this process.
As Ginsburg points out, "Immigration is no longer something that's positive for the United States. The Homeland Security Act says they can review anything they want to review, that immigration is not necessarily good-it's about security, a police function. You are going to get different results if you look at it that way."
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|Title Annotation:||lobbying for relaxation of entry rules for international artists|
|Date:||Aug 1, 2003|
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