Visa Envy: Why Is Yours Longer Than Mine?

By Brian Taylor Goldstein, Esq. I am writing you about a question we have in regards to the length of stay that USCIS grants for O-1B visas.  In the past few years, it has been our experience that USCIS will not grant 3 year visas for a time period that has gaps from anywhere to 3 to 6 months between engagements.  Therefore, for our artists, we have been applying for month long visas, or three month long visas, etc, which has started to become prohibitively expensive for them, and rather inconvenient and time consuming for us. We were told by an artist that is moving off of our roster that his new manager will be applying for a 3 year visa for him, regardless of the fact that this particular artist has gaps of 6 or more months between engagements, or no engagements at all after a certain point.  So our question is, has the USCIS policy changed, or worse, do you think it’s possible that the artist’s new manager has some kind of connection or agreement with USCIS that we do not? Artist visas are not defined by length, but by type: O-1 visas for individual artists, P-1 visas for groups, and P-3 visas for culturally unique individuals or groups. The length of the visa validity period depends on how many engagements and other activities (rehearsals, production meetings, receptions, etc) the artist or group has in the United States—up to 1 year of engagements for P visas and up to 3 years of engagements for O visas. Officially, USCIS will approve a single visa validity period where all the engagements constitute “a continuous event”, such as a tour. However, in its inimitable predilection for unhelpfulness, USCIS has no specific definition of “a continuous event” and no policy on the minimum or maximum length of “gaps” between engagements and activities. Rather, USCIS examiners are given complete, unfettered discretion when it comes to determining whether a gap between engagements is too long and will require filing separate petitions. Let’s say, for example, that an artist has an engagement in October 2013 and their next US engagement is not until April 2013 and the manager files a visa petition requesting a validity period of October 2013 through April 2013. USCIS could either approve the visa for the entire length of the validity period requested, notwithstanding the six month gap between engagements, or it could only approve enough time to cover the October 2013 engagement and require the manager to file a new, separate petition for the April 2013 date. When dealing with this issue, anecdotal evidence and actual experience is your best guide. While I have known USCIS to approve visa petitions even with large gaps between engagements, more often than not it will “cut off” a visa validity period where there are more than 3 – 4 months between engagements or activities. My general advice is to keep gaps as short as possible. As for shortening gaps, or even extending the length of an entire visa validity period, consider this: you are not limited to including in your visa petition only engagements dates that have signed engagement contracts. You do not have to provide a signed contract to support each engagement. Instead, USCIS will accept any written confirmation of an engagement, including unsigned term sheets, deal memos, emails, confirming letters. Even if a date is still under negotiation, so long as you are holding that date on the artist’s calendar, it can be including on the visa petition along with an accompanying written confirmation that the date is being held. In addition, you can also provide a list of the artist’s non-US engagements and explain that when the artist is not performing in the US it is because the artist will be performing elsewhere in the world. I can assure you that USCIS has no special deals with your ex-artist’s new manager. According to your question, your ex-artist is merely claiming that his new manager “will be applying” for a 3 year visa for him. “Will be applying” is not the same that as “has obtained.” If the artist has large gaps in his itinerary or lacks 3 years of engagements, he will be receiving a Request for Evidence (RFE) or a visa denial, not an O-1 with a validity 3 years. Don’t believe everything you are told, especially by disgruntled ex-artists who want you to believe they have moved to greener pastures. __________________________________________________________________ For additional information and resources on this and other legal and business issues for the performing arts, visit ggartslaw.com To ask your own question, write to lawanddisorder@musicalamerica.org. All questions on any topic related to legal and business issues will be welcome. However, please post only general questions or hypotheticals. GG Arts Law reserves the right to alter, edit or, amend questions to focus on specific issues or to avoid names, circumstances, or any information that could be used to identify or embarrass a specific individual or organization. All questions will be posted anonymously. __________________________________________________________________ THE OFFICIAL DISCLAIMER: THIS IS NOT LEGAL ADVICE! The purpose of this blog is to provide general advice and guidance, not legal advice. Please consult with an attorney familiar with your specific circumstances, facts, challenges, medications, psychiatric disorders, past-lives, karmic debt, and anything else that may impact your situation before drawing any conclusions, deciding upon a course of action, sending a nasty email, filing a lawsuit, or doing anything rash!

Tags: Brian Taylor, continuous event, engagement contract, engagements, gap, gaps, Goldstein, manager, maximum length, petitions, time period, uscis, validity period, visa petition, visa petitions, visa validity, visas

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