It is absolutely necessary to go through the visa process. Even if the artist will be performing in the U.S. for no compensation beyond expenses. It is important that you do not attempt to circumvent the visa process. O and P petitioners and beneficiaries who fail to comply with the rules can suffer long-term consequences.
This is a general timeline for artists and organizations thinking about performing internationally.
A petitioner must first file a petition with USCIS to qualify any alien (not including dependents) for work-related classifications, including the O or P categories.
- The petitioner (who cannot be the alien) must select the appropriate classification (for artists this is a nonimmigrant worker I-129 class O or P) and gather the required forms and evidence, including a union consultation. O and P classifications petitioners ordinarily must obtain an advisory opinion from an appropriate labor organization to include with the filing. The union most often will respond with a simple letter of no objection.
- The petitioner must know which of the two USCIS regional service centers to use (Maine uses the Vermont Service Center), provide the correct filing fee, complete the forms properly, submit the correct number of copies and file sufficiently far in advance of the required entry date to account for processing times, visa application times and any unexpected issues.
- Application approval will yield an I-797 Approval Notice for the petitioner to forward to the alien. If abroad, the alien can then complete a visa application, pay any necessary fees and apply for a visa in the category selected.
- With the I-797 and appropriate visa, the alien will be able to appear for inspection at a U.S. preflight inspection facility (PFI) port of entry (POE) or border post. The alien should be admitted into the country under the appropriate status, for the required length of time.
Visa Processing Timeline
This timeline applies to all I-129 petitions for O and P classification. Some of the actions below will, of necessity, be taken care of by the artist, not the petitioner. It is recommended that a 60 day buffer be included at the end of the process in the event of a clerical error or clearance issue.
180 days - File petition via air courier, with return air courier mailer.
150 days - Filing receipt should be in hand.
120 days - Check consular post web site, and contact post if necessary to find out what the lead time is for making appointments. Ask the post how far in advance it is willing to issue the relevant visa, in light of the artist’s scheduled travel time to the U.S. Consular practice varies in this regard, though posts have been encouraged to issue as far in advance as possible. Bear in mind that lead times stretch during the summer travel months and holiday periods, and that all U.S. consular posts are closed on U.S. and host country national holidays.
90 days - Again check the USCIS current processing times for your I-129 petition. If a petition filed through the regular filing process exceeds 14 days in processing times, immediately call the National Customer Service Center (NCSC) at 800-375-5283 to initiate an inquiry into the status of your case. Consider making the visa appointment, if dealing with a consular post with lengthy delays. Make the appointment for 60 days hence. Many posts will claim the petition must be approved before you can make the appointment. Let’s just say that unless the post asks for a copy of the approval notice, it is unlikely to check whether the petition is approved at that point, though it can ask for the file number, which you have.
60 days - Again check the USCIS current processing times for your I-129 petition. If they have slipped and you have not received a response from NCSC, contact them again and consider converting to premium processing. If the artist has not made the visa appointment at the U.S. consulate, urge him/her to do so, depending on what you’ve learned about consular lead times. Double-check to be sure there have been no changes in consular procedure. Have the artist complete the necessary consular processing forms, and obtain the photograph. The artist can wait to pay the fee until you are certain USCIS has approved the petition.
Final preparation - Once you receive the original approval notice, contact the visa applicant and reconfirm that the visa appointment has been made and that there still is sufficient time to ship the approval notice and a full copy of the petition to the applicant before the appointment. If need be, cancel the old appointment and make a new one, again bearing in mind that some posts will not issue the visa until fairly closely to the scheduled travel time.
Visa petitioners may submit I-129 applications for O or P visas up to a maximum of one year in advance of their need for the foreign artist’s services.
You may wish accomplish the following tasks before the one-year clock begins to run:
- Confirm who is responsible for filing the petition
- Check current processing times at https://egov.uscis.gov/cris/Dashboard.do
- Gather all required supporting documentation and evidence
- Complete the forms in draft
- Obtain a labor consultation (if required)
- Identify the target consular post.
Remember, obtaining the petition approval is only the first task. The second is making sure that the artist has enough time to obtain the visa once she/he receives the approval notice. For this, someone must contact the consular post. In short, you must be sure that the estimated regular processing time, plus the time it will take for the artist to obtain the visa, is sufficient.
All forms need to complete this process can be found on the Artists from Abroad website under the Appendix