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Nancy Martino lets out a tired sigh when asked about booking dance events for San Francisco Performances' season. As the dance program consultant for the presenter, she has been hard-hit by a recent Immigration and Naturalization Service change. "Already it's a nightmare," she said in July.

The INS is the first stop for presenters and dance companies seeking petitions for visas that will allow them to bring foreign companies and artists to the U.S. Until recently, petitions for O and P visas, those most often sought for foreign performers, were supposed to be given priority and processed within fifteen days. Though few INS processing centers met this deadline, the statutory demand may have helped push Os and Ps through the system more quickly. In June, however, the INS announced a new Premium Processing Service that lets other types of employment-based visa petitions jump to the front of the line in exchange for a $1,000 fee. For smaller presenters, and others not willing or able to pay the fee, this has meant longer waits and nervous nail biting.

Just days after the new program took effect, Vermont's processing center, historically one of the country's speediest, predicted slowdowns. Before premium processing, the center usually responded to petitions in fifteen to twenty-one days. But after the new program was launched, Vermont's turnaround time for non-premium processing fee (PPF) petitions jumped to ninety days--making it as slow as the California center, one of the tardiest.

And the slowdowns could grow worse this month if the INS expands the premium program to include H-1B petitions, which go to businesses hiring foreign labor.

The INS is advising arts groups to file earlier if they can't pay the new fee, but many say this is impossible. If you're a presenter petitioning for a major Russian ballet company, says Jonathan Ginsburg, a Fairfax, Virginia-based immigration attorney who works with arts groups, it's completely unrealistic to assume that the final travel list would even approximate a beneficiary list submitted six months earlier.

Ginsburg and others also fear that the new fee might set off a chain reaction if other countries view it as a tax on foreign artists and respond with some kind of similar "tax." "If that happens the U.S. might, in turn, put some real tax in place to retaliate," says Ginsburg.

The INS, for its part, casts the Premium Processing Service as a scheme that benefits the INS and all its customers--rich and poor. "With this program, businesses can rely on INS to meet the demands of today's fast-paced workplaces," said Bill Yates, INS's deputy executive associate commissioner, Immigration Services Division. "The enhanced revenue ... will insure faster service for these businesses without causing delays in the adjudication of other petitions. In fact, the revenue will allow INS to improve service and expand infrastructure to the benefit of all our customers."

But few presenters or artists buy the INS's Robin Hood-like justification. Since the PPF was put in place, Ginsburg and a coalition of arts organizations that includes Dance/USA hope to work with the INS to nail down concrete processing times for normal applications. They also hope to make sure the new funds won't increase the number of PPF program employees without also adding staff to deal with the regular program backlog.

But for the moment, dance groups are faced with unappealing choices--delays, higher costs, or forgoing foreign dance groups altogether. "This is tantamount to a huge new tax on the performing arts (and others)," wrote Ginsburg in a recent email to the coalition.
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Title Annotation:Immigration and Naturalization Service's Premium Processing Service
Author:Weeks, Janet
Publication:Dance Magazine
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 1, 2001
Next Article:Beer and Roses for ABT's Departing Dancer.

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