Non-Immigrant Visa Service
Don Verdery of GAMI/Simonds has been filing non-immigrant worker visas on behalf of performing artists and companies from all over the world since 1985 - from soloists and ensembles to companies with 60+ personnel and support crews.
In today’s world with its increasing challenges I strive to make the process as painless as possible and present each case so that it has the best chance of success. A major key to success is to plan well in advance. This reduces stress, lowers cost (by avoiding Premium Processing) and allows time for the unexpected.
Each case is unique and requires its own strategy for success. In demonstrating an artist’s qualifications for the O or P classifications (the appropriate classifications for the performing arts) is by no means as simple as providing a comprehensive bio and some reviews. While one must present artist / company generated press materials (biography, press excerpts, list of performance highlights, awards etc) - USCIS does not accept these at face value. Key elements of the press package - major awards, performances at prestigious festivals/venues, tours of various countries, reviews from major media outlets - must be supported with scans of award certificate(s), web concert announcement(s), festival or venue announcements, concert/cd reviews in their original format etc. All materials must be in English or accompanied by a translation.
In many cases, it is also necessary to provide documentation that supports the claim that an international award, concert venue, festival or media source is one with a “distinguished reputation”. After reviewing the press materials I will web search where needed histories of international competitions/awards, venues, festivals, and media sources.
The rule of thumb is that the USCIS officer assigned the case will most likely have zero knowledge of the performing arts. Some will adhere to the letter the required qualifications, while others are less stringent. Hope for the best, plan for the worst.
At the outset of a case I will provide a detailed list of the required materials and their formats. I will then create the petition(s), submit to the appropriate labor union(s) for the required labor consultation letter(s) and then to USCIS for the I-797 Approval Notice(s). GAMI/Simonds will provide guidance with the consulate procedure that is required following receipt of the approval notice that GAMI/Simonds petitions USCIS for. The exception are Canadian citizens for whom the I-797 Approval Notice and a valid passport is all that is required to enter and perform in the U.S.
Currently USCIS service centers are taking between 90 and 150 days to adjudicate cases submitted as Regular Processing, thus making the Premium Processing a necessity in most cases. However, this does not mean one can't file as Regular Processing and upgrade to Premium Processing if need be. There are the occasional pleasant surprises.
Note that adjudication means one receives either a Form I-797 Approval Notice, a Request for Further Evidence (RFE) or a Denial. An RFE can require 2-3 weeks to reply. One does not fight a Denial, one re-submits petition(s) with evidence to avoid a second denial.
Before one submits to USCIS one must:
· gather materials and create the petitions - typically 2-3 weeks or more
pending artist press materials and if all dates are booked and contracted
· submission to labor unions - 7-10 days
· cushion for the unexpected - 1 month
· consulate procedure - 1-2 weeks
Premium Processing carries a cost of $1,225.00 per petition. With PPS, USCIS must adjudicate in 15 calendar days. One should still allow for the unexpected - the most common being an RFE.
Fees as of 12-02-16:
- Labor union consultation letter: $250.00 - $300.00 per petition pending the union.Actors’ Equity does not charge a fee. Some unions also have an expedite service for $50.00 - $100.00 more.
- USCIS Form I-907 Premium Processing: $1,225.00 per petition
- USCIS Form I-129: $460.00 per petition (as of 12/23/16)
- GAMI/Simonds hard costs (copies, FedEx): $275.00 - $300.00
GAMI/Simonds fees vary pending the length of the visa being applied for, the number of personnel involved, and other factors. Please contact Don for initial free consultation and quote.
Word to the Wise:
Amazingly, I still hear of artists, primarily solo artists, that enter as tourists and then do concerts. Passport control officers are very web suave and with the artist in front of them have checked the web and come up with concert announcements and put them on the next plane back where they came from. If caught you will be banned for 5 years and after that it will take a minimum of 6 months to process a non-immigrant worker visa application.
Do I need a visa if I am not being paid?
Yes, unless the performance is closed to the public you need a proper visa, regardless of whether you are being paid or tickets are free.
This remains a source of confusion for artists, presenters and management. Give me a call and I’d be happy to provide an initial consultation, and who knows maybe make things clearer for you.