Do We Need Visas For Orchestra Support Staff?

By Brian Taylor Goldstein

Dear Brian:

We are touring an orchestra in the United States next season and have been grappling with the idea of whether the staff from the concerts team need to have visas for this tour, regardless of whether they are employees or freelance (we’ve had different opinions expressed). In the past, we have always included our orchestral manager on the visa petition because she is a full time employee, but the concerts team staff are rather different, not least because they are usually hired only for the tour, nothing else, and will not be on tour for the whole time and are therefore not an intrinsic part of the artistic production. They receive no payments or salary in the US and, thus, earn no income in the US. Do you have any thoughts on this? If we get them visas, would they all have to travel together? Would we need two separate petitions? Does this cost more depending upon the size of the concerts team?

The need for a US work visa (O or P) is triggered by work, not payment. Anyone who provides services in the US, whether on the stage as a performing artist, or behind the scenes as part of the technical crew, administrative staff or tour support team, all require work visas–regardless of whether or not they are paid in the US or whether or not they are even paid at all. Whether or not they are an intrinsic part of the artistic production doesn’t change this.

In the case of orchestras, each of the musicians will require a P-1 visa and each of the non-performing support staff require a P-1S visa. To obtain these visas, you will need to file two visa petitions: a P-1 petition for the performers, conductor, musicians, etc. and a P-1S petition listing the technical crew, management team, administrative support, etc. Filing fees are charged “per petition”, so it costs the same whether the P-1S petition contains 2 people or 20 people. Once approved, each individual listed will need to appear personally at the US consulate and pay a visa fee before being issued his or her visa by a brusque and surly consulate official. P-1 and P-1S visas are valid for the duration of the approved classification period. So, the support staff is free to travel in and out of the US during the tour as needed. Everyone neither has to travel together nor do they have to remain for the duration of the entire tour.

Without exception, in the visas we prepare for our orchestral clients, we simply put all the musicians on a P-1 and all non-musician staff on a P-1S and eliminate the ability of a border guard to frustrate a process already fraught with enough risk and unpredictability from other areas.


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