11 April 2012

No celebrity treatment in US visa rules

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While the US may be the land of celebrity, several promoters and American immigration lawyers have complained about the number of performers having to delay or even cancel shows due to convoluted and overly-complex US visa rules.

US immigration

American officials claim each US visa application is undertaken on an individual basis.

US visa laws have undergone a complete overhaul since the tragic events of 9-11 but many people have complained about the continually increasing rules, especially when it comes to performers, who often have to cancel expensive arrangements.

"Everything is much more difficult," said Palma R Yanni, former president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association who handles US immigration arrangements for performers and artists.

"I didn't think it could get worse than it was after 9/11, but the last couple of years have been terrible. It just seems like you have to fight for everything across the board, even for artists of renown.

"The standards have not changed, but the [Homeland Security Department] just keeps narrowing the criteria, raising the bar without notice or comment, reinterpreting things and just making everything more restrictive. We call it the culture of no."

The most recent case of an artist falling victim to complex visa laws was Spanish Flamenco singer Pitingo, whose birth name, Antonio Manuel Alvarez Velez, is remarkably similar to a terrorist suspect sought by the US.

Despite embassy officials realising Pitingo was not the target they were looking for, Pitingo was still subject to immigration checks, and by the time they were complete, had missed his show at the Grand Ballroom at the Manhattan Center, costing his producers almost $25,000 (£16,000).

Similarly, Britain's own Halle Orchestra no longer bothers to book shows in the US due to the unlikelihood of being able to receive visas in time.

Last summer a British theatre director, Tim Supple, took his Arabic show, One Thousand and One Nights about the Arab Spring, across the UK and Canada without a problem, but when he attempted to stage a production at the Chicago Shakespeare Festival, nine of the 40 participants were denied visas and the show had to be cancelled.

"One has to respect everyone's right to protect their own security, but it's a growing problem that needs to be addressed," said Roy Luxford, the show's producer. "Everyone got Canadian visas in two weeks and British visas in eight to 10 days."

Mr Luxford explained that adding any American dates to a production "has become overly onerous and a real barrier to undertaking any sort of normal tour."

"If all the rhetoric about open societies and cultural exchange is to be believed, then the agencies involved in that process need to own up to that."

The production team behind One Thousand and One Nights claim that the cast's Arabic names meant they had been profiled by US immigration officials and thus denied visas. The American government denied that any such practices exist and that Homeland Security "strictly adheres to a zero tolerance policy that prohibits profiling on the basis of religion, race or ethnicity."

"Ever case is decided individually based on the facts and the law," said a United States Citizenship and Immigration Services spokesperson.


The American Visa Bureau is an independent migration consultancy specialising in helping people from Visa Waiver Program (VWP) countries make their ESTA application.

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