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O-1 visas for musicians, artists and the pandemic


In the past, the O-1 visa was the number of foreign musicians and other artists who could tour and work in the United States. Now, for many reasons, they may have to consider other strategies.

The O-1 visa category is for “artists of extraordinary ability” and obtaining O-1B visa status for foreign musicians has always meant raising the bar high. But, the previous administration erected other obstacles, such as “extreme vetting”, for some, depending on their country of origin. Then the COVID-19 pandemic happened and the concerts and tours were canceled.

Foreign musicians in the United States in O status lost their livelihoods during the pandemic. Although some may have received unemployment benefits, many hesitated, fearing possible calamitous effects on future immigration applications. In the meantime, without work, they were technically “out of status”. One option was to switch to Visitor B status to stay in the United States and wait for the pandemic to end. Only musicians with sufficient funds could afford this route. Others left the country if they could and must now return.

Now that concert halls are starting to reopen, cancellations continue as foreign musicians still cannot obtain visas. The 14-day travel restrictions raised problems for musicians coming from the countries covered – symphony orchestras had to replace performers at the last minute and national tours were canceled. But, even with those restrictions lifted in early November, it looks like visa delays will continue to affect touring artists.

Many US consulates abroad continue to be understaffed and work with backlogs. In some cases, the first visa appointments take place in the spring of 2022. In addition, it is expected that due to the lifting of the 14-day travel restrictions, there will be an increase in applications and the queues will get longer. While the Biden administration has made it easier for nonprofits to request expedited processing of petitions, it does not make the visa application process any easier. Musicians who attempt to tour to make up for lost income when concerts have been canceled are on hold. Arts organizations are pushing for relief.

Of course, the problems aren’t just in the United States. Musicians are also hampered by travel and quarantine restrictions abroad.

O visas are not the only possibilities for musicians. Other options include P-1 visas for members of internationally recognized entertainment groups, P-2 visas for artists participating in certain reciprocal exchange programs, and Q-1 visas for those participating in cultural exchanges. . While each of these visas has different eligibility requirements, the backlog of visas at U.S. consulates affects them all.

Jackson Lewis PC © 2021National Law Review, Volume XI, Number 292