Responsibility…Its Not Just About Visas

By Brian Taylor Goldstein, Esq.

Dear Law & Disorder:

We are facing a visa problem for one of our Russian singers.  She is supposed to sing in the United States at the end of February with a US Orchestra. Now it turns out that the orchestra is neither willing to apply nor to pay for the visa fees that would be a total of $1800 ($250 for the AGMA union consultation, plus $325 to USCIS, plus another $1,225 to USCIS to have the approval notice expedited) and the artist does not want to pay this big fee for just one engagement of 8 days. The visa petition is ready to be mailed, but now we are wondering if there is a way of reducing the costs. The singer has been to the US many times to perform, and is a member of AGMA. On the top of the visa petition, she will also have to pay $190 for an interview at the US Embassy in Moscow. Would there be a way of getting her a visa without having to pay all these costs (or at least pay less?) Help!

If the singer is a current AGMA member, AGMA may waive its $250 consult fee, but you’ll need to contact AGMA directly to confirm their current policy. Otherwise, sadly, there is no way to reduce the costs you have listed.

USCIS charges a basic filing fee of $325 for standard processing. USCIS standard processing times can vary wildly, and change without notice. USCIS has recently been processing petitions within 3 – 4 weeks of filing, sometimes even sooner. However, if you can’t take the risk, you will, indeed, need to pay an additional fee of $1225 for premium processing in exchange for which USCIS will guarantee to review the visa petition within 15 days of filing. (Remember, “review” does not guarantee “approval.” USCIS can always review the petition and still return it, asking for more evidence or supporting materials.) While there is a process by which you can ask for an “emergency expedite” and waive the premium processing fee, this is reserved for instances of true “emergencies” (ie: an ill performer requires a last minute replacement). Financial hardship won’t qualify as an “emergency.” There is also no mechanism by which to avoid the $190 visa application fee required to be paid to the consulate. (Some consulates charge even more.)

What makes this situation truly unfortunate is that all of this could have been avoided. When a non-US artist is engaged to perform in the US, who will bear the artist’s visa costs, along with who will take responsibility for preparing and filing the artist’s visa petition, is something that can and should be negotiated at the time of the engagement. I encounter far too many situations where artists are booked and, while fees and travel arrangements are discussed at length, no one discusses any of the other details that are critical to a successful engagement—such as visas and tax withholding. Managers too often assume the opera companies, orchestras, or presenters will handle it, the opera companies, orchestras, and presenters assume the managers will handle it, and the artists assume that they are paying a 20% commission for “someone” to handle it so they don’t have to. Remember, there are no industry standards!

While it won’t necessarily help your current dilemma, the solution in the future is quite simple: if you are a manager or agent, no matter how badly you want to book an engagement for your foreign artist, before you do so, confirm with the presenter or venue whether or not the artist already has a visa, will require a visa, and/or who will pay and petition for the visa. If you are an opera company, orchestra, or presenter, no matter how badly you want to book a particular foreign artist, always ask their manager or agent whether or not the artist already has a visa, will require a visa, and/or who will pay and petition for the visa. While you’re at it, you might as well negotiate and confirm everything else, too: licensing, cancellation terms, recording rights, etc. A lot of angst could be avoided if each party in an engagement contract makes it their responsibility to discuss with the other party all contingencies and potential problems that could arise. Avoiding an empty stage and an unhappy artist is everyone’s responsibility.





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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!

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