House Says 'Aye' to Bill Speeding Visa Processing for Foreign Artists

The House voted Tuesday to improve the visa approval process for foreign artists, addressing a problem that has resulted in some orchestras and groups not engaging those from abroad.

"It causes a tremendous disruption," House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers, D-Mich., said of a visa petition process that by law is supposed to be completed in two weeks but more often takes between two and six months.

The House bill, approved by voice vote, extends the time period given the Homeland Security Department to process nonimmigrant visas for certain types of artists and entertainers from two weeks to 30 days.

If the department fails to meet that 30-day deadline, it must provide premium processing services free of charge. Currently, each petitioner must pay a $1,000 fee for premium processing that ensures a decision in 15 days.

The bill, which now goes to the Senate for consideration, affects only visa applications made by nonprofit arts organizations.

Community orchestras, symphonies, operas and dance teams "are just asking for the flexibility to be able to bring foreign artists here, which also creates an environment for U.S. artists to go overseas," said Rep. Dan Lungren, R-Calif.

Heather Noonan, vice president for advocacy for the League of American Orchestras, said her group supports the legislation because they need to know that when the curtain goes up, the performer will be there. She added that for most nonprofit groups the fee of $1,000 for each application "is completely unaffordable."

The current lack of predictability in the visa process, she said, has had "a chilling effect because if there is even the appearance of resistance to foreign artists, it makes the climate for cultural exchanges more difficult."