A number of months in the past, I discovered myself sitting with a handful of different legal professionals in a windowless convention room deep throughout the bowels of New York’s JFK airport. We have been listening to a collection of shows given by a number of stern trying Customs and Border Safety (“CBP”) officers. The aim of the assembly was to assessment current developments and to strengthen ties between CBP and immigration practitioners in New York and past. Details have been shared, feedback have been made, and arguments have been (principally) prevented. Two issues occurred to me throughout that session. The primary was that U.S. immigration legislation, already notoriously labyrinthine and steadily contradictory even for attorneys, have to be significantly confounding for worldwide guests being fed by way of the grinder of customs, lots of them nonetheless groggy from an hours lengthy flight. The second was: what number of pipers need to cope with this mess?

•JR Strauss is a long-time piper and an immigration legal professional based mostly in Brooklyn, New York.

The aim of this text is to provide pipers, drummers, and different conventional musicians from outdoors the U.S. an outline of our immigration system, what to anticipate in the event that they plan on touring right here, and what to be careful for. As competitions, workshops, and efficiency venues start to reopen, musicians coming to the U.S. should be cautious to abide by the related legislation, as what could look like a easy error or innocent omission can have main penalties down the highway. (Notice: Whereas I like giving unsolicited recommendation as a lot as the following piper, I can solely touch upon immigration legislation within the U.S. For information on the UK, EU/Schengen space, or anyplace else on the earth, contact an legal professional/solicitor.)

Earlier than we go a lot additional, some primary terminology might be useful. First, a “visa” is an official doc that enables entry for a selected goal, equivalent to work or research. It’s sometimes within the type of a stamp or “foil” that’s positioned in a passport and appears like an ID. The visas mentioned on this article are non-immigrant visas, and canopy brief time period journeys to the U.S. These are very completely different from immigrant visas, which authorize long run or everlasting residency and are step one on the trail to citizenship. The company that oversees the immigration and nationality system within the U.S. is United States Citizenship and Immigration Companies, or “USCIS.” Customs and Border Safety (“CBP”) and Immigration and Customs Enforcements (“ICE”) are legislation enforcement businesses which are, as their names suggest, liable for guarding the border and implementing customs and immigration legislation.

With the lingo out of the best way, let’s give attention to just a few of the commonest non-immigrant visas. First, there are the customer visas, that are categorised as B1 and B2 and are issued by a U.S. consulate. The B2 is for tourism, whereas the B1 permits for restricted business-related actions, equivalent to attending conferences or negotiating contracts. Neither enable for employment or work outdoors of some very particular contexts. For some individuals, a B visa stamp is probably not mandatory. For instance, if you’re from one of many 40 nations which are a part of the Visa Waiver Program, such because the UK, Eire, most of continental Europe, Australia, and Japan, you need to use the Digital System for Journey Authorization – “ESTA” – to journey. It’s very necessary to notice, nevertheless, that the principles that govern what can and can’t be executed whereas on a B1/B2 visa additionally apply to ESTA, so I’ll consult with this household of vacationer/traveler visas as “B/ESTA” for ease of classification (and since I like the way it sounds).

After the customer visas, there are the employment based mostly visas. The most typical are the H (expert employee), E (investor), L (intracompany supervisor or specialist) and the O (extraordinary skill) and P (sure athletes/performers). Of the 5, I’ll solely cowl the O and P, as these apply to pipers and different musicians. These visas additionally require a visit to a U.S. consulate, which can hopefully approve and challenge the visa stamp itself. (Canadians, who’re visa exempt, can normally skip this step – it’s a small profit for placing up with their southern neighbors.) Because of the processing backlogs that plague most consular posts all over the world within the wake of COVID, this step can usually add months to the method. Given these delays, anybody contemplating an employment based mostly visa ought to begin planning sooner somewhat than later. I’ve included on the backside of this text for these in search of extra information.

A query that steadily comes up with the musicians I work with is that if or after they want a selected employment visa somewhat than the B/ESTA. For almost all {of professional} musicians, it’s most secure to begin from the idea that an O or P visa might be required. As talked about above, there are some restricted exceptions beneath the principles that will apply to pipers and different folks musicians. For instance, professionals coming into solely to compete in musical competitions can use the B/ESTA, as can people collaborating in cultural packages sponsored by the traveler’s dwelling authorities. There are additionally just a few very restricted showcases the place pipers can carry out for potential employers versus an viewers that’s there to be entertained (equivalent to annual conferences and occasions organized by Folks Alliance Worldwide or The Affiliation of Performing Arts Professionals). Musicians may obtain an honorarium cost for serving as visitor lecturers or performers for certified educational establishments for a time frame to not exceed 9 days for anybody entity, with not more than 5 such engagements in a six-month interval. It’s necessary to needless to say the exceptions are very narrowly interpreted. The evaluation as as to if or not an exercise is employment and would require a visa is much less about cost and extra in regards to the risk that it’s going to take work away from American musicians. Attempting to get across the guidelines by calling a efficiency “promotional” or voluntary won’t take away the necessity for an applicable employment visa.

As a result of the principles usually are not properly outlined or simply exhausting to know (if they are often discovered within the first place), conventional musicians could violate them with out even realizing it. Many gamers within the trad and folks scenes are usually soloists or members of small teams and don’t normally have the authorized and logistical assist of a serious label or massive tour administration to advise them of the visa necessities. One other challenge is that a number of the best pipers have a day job and will not think about themselves “skilled” past the bounds of piping competitions. For these rare flyers, an employment visa is the very last thing they’re eager about. Sadly, UCIS or CBP could have a really completely different thought. With regards to immigration, it doesn’t matter if somebody is coming into to headline a 50-city tour, report an album, or play a fast gig at the back of a pub – the precise visa is required. In days passed by, a fiddler or a piper could have unadvisedly entered as a vacationer, performed just a few exhibits, and slipped out with out immigration changing into any the wiser. Due to social media, digital publishing, and authorities knowledge mining, these days are gone; a probably problematic efficiency or engagement can reside on-line for years and might come up if an official decides to do some googling. Violating the principles can result in lack of ESTA, visa cancellation, inadmissibility, and probably worse relying on the character of the alleged misrepresentation.

Thankfully, it’s not all doom and gloom. As talked about above, there are two visa classes that may enable pipers and trad musicians to work in U.S.– the O and the P. The O-1 is reserved for people with “extraordinary skill,” whereas the P is for ensembles and sure particular person performers. In contrast to ESTA or the B visa, these visas have to be first accredited by way of a petition submitted to USCIS. Upon approval, beneficiaries can then transfer on to the consulate to request their visa stamp (except they occur to be a type of fortunate Canadians). Of the 2, the O-1 tends to be essentially the most difficult, though it permits for an extended approval interval of 36 months in comparison with the P’s 12 and is probably extra versatile. Candidates (known as “beneficiaries”) have to be represented by a “petitioner,” or a U.S. based mostly entity that represents them earlier than the federal government. To be accredited for an O, a beneficiary should submit proof of a serious nationwide or worldwide award or documentation that satisfies no less than 3 of 6 regulatory standards, equivalent to proof of starring participation in distinguished productions or occasions or proof of nationwide or worldwide recognition as established by articles by or in regards to the beneficiary in main media or commerce publications. A letter from a labor union or peer group is usually required, as is proof of employment within the U.S. The P visa, alternatively, is much less onerous, though shares the necessity for a petitioner, peer letter, and confirmed employment. Completely different subcategories of the P even have their very own necessities, equivalent to coming to the U.S. to carry out as a member of a bunch that has a sustained popularity for being “acknowledged internationally as excellent” (the P1B) or people collaborating in a program that’s “culturally distinctive” like a piping college or associated program (the P3). As well as, each the O & P visas have subcategories for dependent relations in addition to “important assist” workers like tour managers or technical crew.

Musicians who’re considering taking over work within the U.S. shouldn’t be intimidated by phrases like “extraordinary skill” or “culturally distinctive.” For instance, established pipers, significantly these with a historical past of wins at main contests or well-reviewed albums beneath their kilt belts, could qualify for an O-1 or a P-3, whereas a longtime trad group may wish to look right into a P-1B. On the similar time, musicians who don’t meet the usual shouldn’t take that as an invite to strive their luck and work with out authorization. When issues go dangerous with the immigration course of, they go very dangerous, in a short time.

Naturally, one query that comes up is “how a lot will this value?” At time of writing, the usual USCIS submitting price for an O or P petition is $460, plus $2500 if an expedited response is requested. Os and Ps additionally want session letters from a union with jurisdiction (normally the American Federation of Musicians), which provides no less than $250. There are additionally visa processing charges assessed by the consulates, which vary from $160 for B visas to $190 for different employment based mostly visas just like the O and P. Whereas ESTA circumvents the necessity to deal straight with a consulate, even it carries a $21 processing price. You will need to do not forget that these numbers are solely what the federal government prices, and authorized charges for making ready a petition, which will be vital, will add to the prices. Potential employees from overseas or their potential employers might want to weigh the price of a visa and the underlying course of in opposition to the worth of the work to be accomplished. In some instances, a single efficiency could not justify the expense. Nonetheless, the price of attempting to untangle the authorized knot that may outcome if a traveler is discovered to have violated the immigration rules could also be considerably larger, so care ought to be taken when planning to come back to the U.S. to work or carry out. Talking with a lawyer or arts group with expertise in immigration issues is the primary place to begin, as there could also be methods to maximise the utility of a selected visa, to not point out the potential to find out about professional bono or grant choices for certified musicians.

The world is lastly re-opening, and I feel I can communicate for different pipers and conventional music lovers within the U.S. after I say that I’m relieved that world acts are lastly coming again to our phases. And because the degree of enjoying continues to develop within the U.S, there’s a renewed want for skilled musicians from overseas who wish to share their expertise and construct new connections. Whereas the immigration system will be difficult, there are methods to keep away from bother and, for a lot of pipers and folks musicians, choices for authorized employment and residence.

Useful Hyperlinks

Artists from Overseas (https://www.artistsfromabroad.org/): An excellent overview of the immigration panorama with a selected give attention to the humanities.

Tamizdat (https://www.tamizdat.org/): A nonprofit that works with artists on immigration points and might, in some instances, assist discover professional bono or low-cost visa choices.

Volunteer Attorneys for the Arts New York (https://vlany.org/): A authorized support group that may join volunteer legal professionals to potential shoppers in a spread of areas.

Concerning the creator: JR Strauss is a long-time piper and an immigration legal professional based mostly in Brooklyn, New York.


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