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World Music Features

Musicians Finding Their Way through Visa Maze

By Anastasia Tsioulcas
Published July 28, 2006

Three years after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11th, international musicians face significant challenges in receiving permission to tour the United States.

Three years after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11th and after new security procedures were put into place by the U.S. government, international musicians face significant challenges in receiving permission to tour the United States. Despite these challenges, however, many artists are successfully obtaining visas and visiting the U.S.

Visitors face a veritable maze of regulations in applying for visas. Among other requirements, artists must both apply for visas with the United States Citizen and Immigration Services bureau (USCIS) and pass security clearances after the initial visa application is approved. The second step of this process demands that all applicants must have an in-person interview at the nearest U.S. consulate. While both steps of the larger process can be quite time-consuming and expensive, the in-person interview requirement has emerged as a major stumbling block.

            “Depending on the applicants, initial applications are generally being approved,” says Richard Tashjian, a California-based immigration attorney. “But then it becomes an uphill battle.”

Isabel Soffer, associate director of New York City’s World Music Institute, agrees with Tashjian assessment. “The initial round of applying usually goes very smoothly,” she says. “It’s at the consular level that things become problematic.”

“The consular personnel have significant interview backlogs,” explains Tashjian. He adds that these in-person interviews demand additional financial resources from the applicants, who are of course responsible for travel and boarding expenses incurred during this stage of the application. Tashjian observes that even without considering immigration lawyer fees, application costs alone can run well over $3000, a significant chunk of money to many artists and presenters, particularly those in the world music community who are operating on shoestring budgets.

Soffer notes, “I’ve heard of two-and-a-half months’ wait for initial immigration approval, when applicants don’t pay an extra $1000 for expedited processing. Then another two-and-a-half months’ wait for consular interviews. You’re not allowed to apply any sooner than six months beforehand, so already you’re bumping up against time limitations.” Soffer adds that she worries that this process is intimidating to artists. “Some embassies take artists’ passports for processing, for example, leaving them without identification or the ability to travel.”