ArticlesVolume 36, No. 1 (2012)

The Final Curtain Call: Administrative Challenges in the United States O-Visa Process for Foreign Artists and Performers

In 2007, the media and entertainment field amounted to a $930 billion industry.  The film industry brought in $10.2 billion, and the video game industry brought in $7.4 billion in U.S. revenues.  The advent of the Internet and other technological developments has created new platforms for, and transformed the meaning of, entertainment for a more globalized audience.  No longer are American or foreign audiences confined to entertainment in their respective countries.  Global audiences continue to broaden their international tastes, creating a culturally diverse demand and market for more international performers.  From music to advertising, individuals focus on secular appeal.  As the demand increases for global appeal in the entertainment arena, so too has the demand for foreign artists.  Foreign-born artists like Rihanna, Jude Law and Yo-Yo Ma are from diverse countries and entertainment genres; yet they have one thing in common:  they all need O-visas to enter into and perform in the United States.  In 2010 alone, 63,984 foreign artists and personnel entered the U.S. on an O-visa.

With the passage of the Immigration Act of 1990, Congress created the O- and P- visa categories for entertainers and artists.  Congress viewed these visa categories as exceptional ones for extraordinary artists in their respective fields.  Whether the United States grants an O-visa depends heavily on subjective standards and input from several different U.S. institutions:  law firms, artist labor unions, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and the Department of State (which includes consulates and embassies).  The inconsistent standards implemented by each of these institutions pose administrative issues in the application process.  These problems have a chilling effect on bringing talented individuals into the United States.

Examining the subjective standards delineated throughout the application process reveals that the labor unions and bureaucratic requirements ultimately create barriers that prevent talented, international artists from entering the United States.  This has heavy ramifications on the United States’ intercultural, global presence.  Modifying the visa petition process to create a more uniform procedure will ultimately enhance the arts domestically and will reposition American public diplomacy and interests around the globe.