Since COVID-19 came onto the scene this past March here in the United States, the prospect of touring seemed like a grim one at most. For the most part, no one is sure when musicians and touring acts will be able to perform in live venues again. Touring artists hoping to play in the United States will now have to take on various legal costs to do so.
This past month, the United States Department of Homeland Security went under the radar with visa fee increases for artists touring to the United States. The fees are said to be up by 50% and are set to apply to both O and P visas. These visas typically cover both groups and individual artists, allowing them to work within the United States for a specified period.
O Visas are given to “Individuals with Extraordinary Ability or Achievement” and the price is set to rise from around $406 to $705, which is a 53% increase. P visas, on the other hand, which are given to artists or groups deemed “culturally unique,” will increase from $60 to $695 (a 51% increase). The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services announced these changes under the Department of Homeland Security only a few weeks ago.
According to the USCIS, the increase in fees is due to a “conducted a comprehensive biennial fee review and determined that current fees do not recover the full cost of providing adjudication and naturalization services.”
In the second half of 2020, the USCIS took a loss of $1.1 billion in non-premium revenue. According to experts within the organization, the USCIS cannot absorb a revenue loss of that size while retaining the right amount of funds to sustain operations as they were before the pandemic hit.
This monumental decision has caused quite a stir within the realm of immigration attorneys. They say that this will increase the financial pressure that touring artists already feel when they come to play in the United States. Because the visa situation is fairly complicated, there are plenty of touring artists who hire their own immigration attorneys.
According to Matthew Covey, a Tamizdat immigration attorney, “the bigger problem here is that USCIS adjucation of the O and P regulations have become so arbitrary and onerous that most art institutions have been forced to hire attorneys to manage the process for them.”
Many believe these added legal costs are a catastrophic barrier for the cultural exchange we are used to here in the United States.
These changes aren’t anything new, though. Back in 2017, the Department of Homeland Security fought against the Visa Waiver Program, which allows artists to enter the United States as “nonworking tourists.” This program was a common workaround often used by artists so that they could perform at industry events without pay, such as South by Southwest concerts.
According to the USCIS, however, work that is both paid and unpaid is classified as “work.” During times of change in immigration policy, several music groups have been deported or denied entry to the country due to this renewed immigration enforcement.