The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services agency (USCIS) has come under fire from Hollywood and the performing arts community for excessive visa denials in the O and P visa categories for artists and researchers of extraordinary ability.
The Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles had to cancel scheduled performances last year of an Argentine music group because California immigration officials challenged whether its fusion of Jewish klezmer music and tango met the requirement to be “culturally unique.”
Similarly, California officials also challenged visa petitions in the last year that aimed to bring in an Indian group to perform at a California festival honoring the Hindu goddess Durga, a Chicago opera company seeking to bring in a Spanish singer and an African musical group.
Immigration attorneys, cultural centers, and performing arts groups have voiced strong criticism and complaints to the USCIS, particularly its California service center to fix the problem and make changes that do not result in unwarranted denials. Denial rates for O visas have increased from 9.6% in the 2008 fiscal year to 19.6% this year. Denial rates for P visas have jumped from 11.1% in 2008 to 26.8% this year.
USCIS has responded to the criticism by pledging speedier processing times and greater consistency in judging the visa petitions. They have also ordered a broad review of visa guidelines.
The O visa is a temporary work visa available to foreign nationals who have extraordinary ability in the sciences, arts, education, business or athletics. The P Visa is a temporary work visa available to foreign-based athletes and entertainment groups.