Avoiding a World of Trouble
Consulting A Perfect Union - Part II
Welcome to Part II of a two part discussion on the requirement that every petition for an O or P visa for an artist to perform in the US must include “proof of consultation” from an applicable labor union in the field of the artist, ensemble, and support staff listed on the petition. To review, such “proof” can consist of either a simple written “no objection” letter from the union or a more elaborate written “advisory opinion” letter in which that union explains why it supports the visa petition or why it objects to the visa petition.
Assuming your artist or group meets all of the other eligibility requirements of an O or P visa, a union will rarely object—except for Actor’s Equity, but more on that later. Regardless, what is the impact of a union issuing an “objection letter” and states that it does not support the visa petition? Surprisingly, very little.
When the US Immigration Laws were being revised in the 1980s, the performing arts unions were able to negotiate the right to be “consulted” on any visa petition involving services by artists or others in the Arts who would others be under their jurisdiction. However, because of Federal US laws prohibiting private organizations from having influence over the application of US Law, the Union’s opinion—whether it objects or not—is merely advisory. In fact, specific US regulations on this subject specifically state: “Consultations are advisory and are not binding on the [USCIS].”
In other words, whether a union issues an “objection letter” or a “no-objection letter”, you have satisfied the requiring of providing “proof of consultation.” Just include the union letter as part of your petition and proceed. Of course, on the occasion that a union does object, I would strongly advise that you include some sort of argument or explanation as to why the union’s objection should carry no weight and be disregarded. For example, Actors Equity will almost always object to a visa petition unless the actors and/or stage managers are being hired under Equity contracts. (Were he still alive, Equity would object to Lord Laurence Olivier if he were not being hired under an Equity contract.) The unions are only supposed to issue their advisory opinions based solely on whether or not the artist or group meets the eligibility requirements of an O or P visa. A union’s philosophical or contractual objections are not among those requirements. In addition, I also recommend seeking a consultation from a “peer group” in the artist’s or group’s field to further support your argument.
Whilst a union’s objection has little if no impact on a visa petition, this is not to suggest that a union’s objection has no consequences or should simply be disregarded. For example, if the artist or group’s presenter has their own agreement or relationship with a union, then, regardless of whether or not the artist or group is issued an O or P visa, the union could hold the presenter or union in breach of its union contract if it hires such artists under non-union contracts. Similarly, if an artist or group is themselves a member of a union, then, regardless of whether or not the artist or group is issued an O or P visa, a union member can be contractually prohibited from performing under a non-union contract. For this reason, in the event of a union objection, its also advisable to confer with the US presenter or venue to make sure that such objection will not impact their ability to present the performance.
It’s also important to bear in mind that the role of a performing arts union is not merely to protect US artists, but to prevent non-US artists from being brought to the US under unfair terms or conditions—such as dancers being required to perform without adequate rest, performers being forced to sleep or travel in sub-standard conditions, or artists not being given proper medical attention or, worse, abandoned with no way of getting home. These situation frequently arise when unscrupulous promoters and producers try to make addition profit or offer cheap performances at the expense of the welfare of their non-US artists. (I’m not naming names, but you know who you are!) These are intolerably serious circumstances and none of us who claim to be proponents of the performing arts can or should condone or facilitate them in any way—even of such shows sell tickets! Ignoring a union’s objections where it perceives such violations to be an issue harms artists, ruins relationships, and degrades the entire field. In addition, should you care about such things, it also causes a substantial amount of karmic debt.
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!
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.
THE OFFICIAL DISCLAIMER: THIS IS NOT LEGAL ADVICE!
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!