Tips for Navigating the Visa Process


The dance field is no stranger to the trials of navigating the visa process for foreign guest artists. Over the years, Dance/USA, as an active member of the Performing Arts Visa Working Group, has been advocating for an improved and more reliable visa processing system. Noticeable progress has been made in processing times and visa petition adjudication, but the challenges to petitioners still abound. 

The following are tips to help members of the dance field navigate the visa process.

Tip #1
Review the Process Before Assembling the Petition 
One of the worst steps a petitioner can take is to begin to assemble a visa petition before understanding the complete process. Applying for a visa includes more than assembling a strong petition and having it approved. The visa application process includes requesting (and waiting for) consultation letters from labor organizations and peer organizations; scheduling a consulate interview; completing the appropriate forms for the consulate interview; booking the artists’ travel; and educating the artist(s) on the terms of the visa and consulate visit. Too often, petitioners receive an approval notice and believe their work is complete. 

To learn more about consular processing and planning, visit:
http://www.artistsfromabroad.org/immigration/cp_common.html

To learn more about consultation requirements, visit:
http://www.artistsfromabroad.org/immigration/consultreq.html

Tip #2
File Petitions as Early as Possible 
The closest a petitioner will ever get to a guarantee of approval, is to have a safety net of time. Yes, it is true that leadership at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has promised to adjudicate all O and P visa petitions for individual artists and entertainers with extraordinary capabilities or a cultural exchange or culturally unique program within 14 days and that USCIS has also established an internal Performing Arts Working Group to review all policies surrounding O and P petitions.* However, this 14-day timeframe is just a target, not a guarantee. If USCIS issues a Request for Further Evidence (RFE) or requires emergency changes to the petition, only extra time will protect the petitioner and beneficiary.

Another reason to file early is that issues can arise when trying to schedule the consulate interview. You might not hear back from the consulate right away, the consulate might have received inaccurate information from USCIS, the artist might need to schedule an interview at a different consulate than originally anticipated, etc. Give yourself enough time to resolve unexpected issues by filing early.

Dance/USA encourages its members to file as far in advance as possible. USCIS can process O and P visa petitions as early as one year in advance of the artist’s start date.

Tip #3
Assemble a Well-Organized Peition With Strong Supporting Evidence
Most USCIS petition adjudicators do not have a background in the arts. Therefore, O and P visa petitions for foreign guest artists must be organized in such a way that the adjudicator is guided through the petition. Here are a few tips for assembling strong, well-organized supporting evidence:

  1. Include a thorough cover letter with the petition. The cover letter should outline all the supporting evidence, the contract terms, the petitioner’s background and an overview of the artist’s background. Use the cover letter as a tool to guide the adjudicator through the rest of the petition.
  2. Labor letter of non-objection is not optional. Avoid processing delays and include the labor letter in the original petition. Letters of consultation from national arts service organizations can be helpful, optional supporting evidence for a petition but cannot replace labor non-objection letters. 
  3. Describe lead and solo roles in O-1B visa petitions carefully. For example, try not to state “roles the artist has performed include Nikita in La Bayadere” without stating that Nikita is a lead role in the ballet. 
  4. In addition to resumes, include detailed biographies, to underscore the artists’ background and experience. 
  5. Translate all evidence in the petition into English.
  6. Use tabs for the different sections of the petition and feel comfortable highlighting and underlining key points in articles, supporting letters, and biographies.
  7. For itinerary-based petitions, include signed agreement forms between the petitioner and all the other employers. 
  8. Include the artist’s itinerary with specific dates, addresses, and names for each venue, fees payable, etc. If multiple engagements occur with significant gaps in between, make sure the itinerary includes the dates when the artist plans to depart and re-enter the U.S.
  9. Include signed contracts whenever possible. If a signed contract is not available at the time of filing, include a letter of intent or describe the terms of the agreement.
  10. Always double-check that you are including the proper fee and submit two copies of the petition – one original and one copy. Failure to take these simple steps may result in the petition being returned unapproved.

Tip #4
Contact the USCIS National Customer Call Center
Are you waiting for a response from USCIS and more than 14 days have passed? Did USCIS issue you a Request for Evidence that you do not understand? For any and all serious inquiries into your petition, contacting the Customer Call Center should be your first step to resolution. Only petitioners, beneficiaries, or attorneys on record can receive specific case information through the Customer Call Center. National Customer Service Center (NCSC): 1-800-375-5283. If you do not receive a satisfactory response from NCSC, contact Dance/USA.

Tip #5
Stay in Contact With Dance/USA
Dance/USA’s Government Affairs Department tracks visa issues, advocates in support of an improved visa processing system, offers guidance on navigating the visa petition process, and writes Peer Letters of Support to strengthen visa petitions. 

Help Dance/USA, and the Performing Arts Visa Working Group, advocate for a more reliable visa process by keeping us informed of your experiences. Also, we might be able to help if you are having challenges with the visa process or consulate visit. To contact Dance/USA’s Government Affairs Department, email advocacy@danceusa.org or call 202-833-1717, ext. 104.

Tip #6
Save These Links for Information and Guidance

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Dance/USA is a founding member of the Performing Arts Alliance and an active member in the ad-hoc coalition, the Performing Arts Visa Working Group. National colleagues in the Performing Arts Visa Working Group include:  American Federation of Musicians, Association of Performing Arts Presenters, OPERA America, League of American Orchestras, North American Performing Arts Managers and Agents, and Theatre Communications Group.

*O-1B classification for aliens of extraordinary ability in the arts;
O-2 classification for personnel accompanying an O-1B alien;
P-1B classification for internationally renowned performing groups and essential support personnel;
P-3 classification for culturally unique performers or groups, teachers and coaches, and essential support personnel.


As the director of government affairs for both Dance/USA and OPERA America, Amy Fitterer is responsible for tracking federal legislation and informing members of advocacy news and opportunities. Through coalition activities with the Performing Arts Alliance and the Cultural Advocacy Group, Amy advocates in support of funding for the National Endowment for the Arts, arts in education programs at the Department of Education, cultural exchange programs at the State Department, visa and tax policies for foreign guest artists, charitable giving and tax regulations, national service and the arts, and communications policies at the Federal Communications Commission. Amy danced professionally with Peninsula Ballet Theatre in the San Francisco Bay Area and served as director of Lisa Spector’s Music School in Half Moon Bay, Calif. She received her ballet training from the Nutmeg Conservatory for the Arts in Connecticut and holds a B.S. in piano performance from Indiana University and an M.A. in arts administration from Teachers College, Columbia University. In January 2011, Amy Fitterer will become the next executive director of Dance/USA.

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