Where There’s An Audience, There’s A Visa!

Enjoy the first of this very useful and informative series - first up, U.S. visa issues!

As we began considering what to write for our very first post for Hello Stage, an artist called our office about whether or not she needed a visa to perform at a summer festival in the U.S. She had been assured by the professor in charge of the program that, since the performance would be part of her training, it was considered “education” and she could just enter as a visitor. She was suspicious. She’s is also very smart!

Understandably, a lot of artists and their managers balk at the U.S. visa process for artists. I understand—it’s illogical, inane, impractical, unpredictable, arbitrary, and expensive…and those are just the positive aspects! Not surprisingly, many of the presents and venues in the U.S.—especially festivals and schools that engage young and developing artists—don’t like the system any more than the rest of us. As a result, they will often inform artists (especially European-based artists) that there are ways to avoid having to obtain a visa—either by not getting paid, being paid through a third party, or performing as part of a training program. Sadly, none of this is accurate.

Many people believe—incorrectly—that if an artist is not paid in the US or if he or she is paid through a non-U.S. agent or a corporation, then no visa is required. Nothing can be further from the truth. A proper work visa (usually either an O or P visa) is required anytime a foreign artist "performs" in the United States—regardless of whether or not tickets are sold, regardless of whether or not the artist is paid or who pays the artist, regardless of whether or not the performance is for a non-profit, regardless of whether or not the performance is at a school or university, regardless of whether or not the performance constitutes “training” or is “educational”, and regardless of just about any scenario you can conceive of. In short: if there’s an audience, there’s a visa.

Do not succumb to the temptation of being assured by a U.S. presenter or venue that their organization has never had to obtain visas for other foreign artists, has never been caught, everyone else does this, etc. etc. Make no mistake. It’s not the presenter or venue taking the risk here—it’s the artist! If an artist is caught, the worst that happens to the presenter or venue is a quick search for a replacement, or, at worst, a cancelled concert. An artist, on the other hand, can be subject to future travel restrictions and bans on future travel to the U.S. Just recently, an artist was advised to enter the U.S. on a visitor visa because they were only being paid enough to cover their expenses and the concert was being presented by a non-profit. The artist wound up being detained at the airport for 5 hours and then refused entry. His ESTA/Visa Waiver privileges have since been revoked and he must now visit a U.S. Consulate whenever he next wants to enter the U.S.—even as a visitor.

If done far enough in advance, and with enough preparation and effort, and not just a little common sense, obtaining a U.S. visa need not be as expensive or complicated as people imagine. The alternative is either unnecessarily avoiding the U.S. altogether or getting caught trying to sneak in. In our posts to come, we will explore all of the various pitfalls, considerations, challenges, solutions, opportunities, frustrations, and advantages involved in touring the U.S., and providing as many tips and strategies for success as we can. You can always find more information on our website: www.ggartslaw.com. And if there’s something in particular you want to know about, be sure to let us know!



The purpose of this blog is to provide general advice and guidance, not legal advice. One size never fits all. Circumstances and solutions can, and do, vary. Please consult with a professional—legal, medical, or otherwise—familiar with your specific 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, quoting us out of context, or doing anything rash!

Brian Taylor Goldstein and Robyn Guilliams are the founding partners of GG Arts Law, a New York-based entertainment law firm, as well as Managing Directors of Goldstein Guilliams International, through which they provide comprehensive business, project and tour management, and legal services exclusively to the international performing arts and entertainment community. Brian has twice been recognized as one of New York's "Super Lawyers" in the fields of Entertainment, Intellectual Property and Immigration in The New York Times and is a well-known speaker and author on arts and artist management. Robyn is an internationally recognized specialist in foreign artist taxation and artist business matters, as well as a Co-Author of Artistsfromabroad.org, with an impressive past career in arts administration and management at major venues and arts organizations.
Author: Brian Goldstein
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