Topic

visas

18 petitions

Started 2 months ago

Petition to L. Francis Cissna, Carl C. Risch, Kirstjen M. Nielsen

Decriminalize Music: Reform the P1 Visa Application Process

For the past couple of decades, immigration reform has been an issue at the forefront of US politics. In particular, we've seen much debate surrounding our temporary worker visa program, especially the H-1B and H-2A/B categories. One visa category which has not garnered as much attention is the P visa, for non-immigrant entertainers, including musicians. While entertainers' visas may not seem as immediately significant as other immigration reform issues, the fact remains that throughout the last three administrations, countless international artists, especially musicians, have been unable to perform in the US, whether because their visa petitions took too long to process or were denied outright for unclear reasons, or because they lacked the time or the money to invest in the application process; or, quite simply, because they were unaware of all the bureaucratic hoops they needed to jump through. One of the most recent and highest profile examples occurred during the 2017 South by Southwest music festival, in which apparent confusion over the necessary visas for foreign performers led to numerous bands being detained and/or deported. Yet the problems extend back much further, as illustrated by this New York Times article from 2012 focusing on the visa issues plaguing several international artists, including flamenco singer Pitingo and the Hallé orchestra (Manchester, England). In fact, nearly every international musician who has ever entertained a hope of performing in the US has a tale of frustration and disappointment to share. The process is so tedious and costly that as a result, many bands are choosing to forgo the US market completely. Simply put, throwing needless obstacles in the way of foreign entertainers' entry into the country costs money - American money. Foreign musicians who tour the US, and their management and crew, pay for flights, vans/buses, gasoline, food, and lodging, and in some cases may opt to purchase equipment or musical instruments, all in addition to the usual revenue tourists bring to the country. Mid-size to large American festivals, such as the aforementioned SXSW or even Maryland Deathfest, an annual metal festival in Baltimore, bring hundreds, even thousands, of people to the area, all of whom are spending money (there’s no doubt that the city of Baltimore enjoys a financial windfall every year due to this event); while in the case of a tour, local venues both small and large, along with surrounding businesses like bars, restaurants, and hotels, stand to benefit, as do American promoters. While it's often come to be accepted that lesser-known international bands may not see much of a profit when they explore the American market, it would appear that the economies that would benefit the most from an easier route to entertainer visas are American, and often local. There's no reason to treat foreign musicians like criminals or terrorists. The majority are ordinary men and women, many of whom maintain part- or full-time jobs in their home countries to supplement the meager profits they see from trying to sell their music. In today's world of online streaming and illegal downloads, what money they do earn must by necessity come from live performances. Most, if not all, truly want to do the right thing, entering the country legally, spending 3-4 weeks at most performing and meeting their fans, and then returning home. Unfortunately, our current P visa system makes it nearly impossible for any but the wealthiest and most popular groups to meet the needlessly strict requirements. It is in everyone's best financial interest to begin seriously reforming this draconian system, and will do much to increase goodwill toward the US abroad. Simple, common sense changes could go a long way toward streamlining and democratizing the P visa process, particularly for the P1 visa most commonly used by musical groups. I would propose starting with the following: Increase USCIS staffing to better and more quickly accommodate applicants, and especially, hire more workers specifically for the purpose of vetting P visa applications. Ideally, those handling P1 visas should have some basic knowledge of the entertainment industry, especially regarding the unique challenges faced by musicians. Turnaround time from submission of materials to determination of visa approval or denial should NOT exceed three (3) months. Eliminate the requirement for interviews at US embassies for P1 visa applicants. If the applicant has already obtained the necessary consultation letter from the American Federation of Musicians, then as long as they can provide proof of identification, completed form DS-160, planned itineraries, and confirmation from American promoters or venue owners, etc., there should be no need for this step. As previously mentioned, most artists have at least one other job in addition to their activities as musicians; traveling to their country's US embassy means a day of work lost. Most of the process, if not all, should be able to be done online or through the mail. Reduce costs for P visas. If the US embassy interview requirement cannot be eliminated entirely, then the interview fees must be significantly reduced. While $190 per person might not seem like a lot of money to a big-name artist, it is not insignificant to most working, touring groups - and if you are a band of four or more musicians, the costs quickly add up. Additionally, the costs for AFM consult letters should also be significantly reduced from the current price of $250. Bear in mind that all these costs are in addition to whatever money the band may have to spend on hiring translators or other services to help guide them through the process, as well as the costs to mail all materials. Most importantly, understanding that the term "internationally recognized" is subjective and problematic, it must be eliminated from P1 visa requirements. It should be clear to anyone that record sales are no longer an accurate metric for determining a band's success in a certain country, but even awards, prizes, endorsements, and media coverage will skew heavily towards only the most popular musicians in the most popular genres of music. Musicians in lesser-known genres such as heavy metal may have very little in the way of traditional media to prove to a USCIS agent who is unfamiliar with the genre that their application is worthy of approval. It is very easy to prove that a foreign band has been established for a certain number of years, and has a sizable, passionate, and active fan base in the US, by submitting social media links, such as the band's promotional Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram profiles. Most musicians would be more than happy to provide these links to help prove their reputation and worthiness for visa approval and a simple perusal by an agent should reveal all necessary information. Beyond that, whether or not the band is internationally recognized or renowned enough to play in the US, is something that they need to determine themselves. Most musicians are intelligent and savvy enough to be able to identify their biggest markets. If, after years of activity, they have determined that it makes financial sense to explore the US market, then that risk should be on them, and is not really the US government's concern. Finally, RFEs should be issued only under the most extraordinary circumstances. The task of the USCIS agent reviewing a P1 visa application should primarily be to simply confirm the identity of the musicians, whether they are who they say they are according to their band’s social media profiles, details of their performances, and whether they intend to come only to play the shows in question without staying on for a longer period of time or engaging in any other activities. Requests for Evidence should only be issued in cases where the agency suspects fraud, or significant criminal risk to US citizens if the musicians in question enter the country. RFEs beyond information that should have already been submitted at the time of the original application cost musicians extra time and money, and can mean that they are waiting in limbo for their visa to be approved right up until a day or two before they are supposed to depart for the US. By and large, most musicians are NOT a threat to national security and we need not treat them as such. Over and above all, we can reform the P visa system and make it more tolerable both for foreign bands and their American fans simply by maintaining respect for musicians, and indeed all artists. America must learn to value art, not criminalize it.

Samantha G.
17 supporters
This petition won 5 years ago

Petition to US Embassy in Kabul, US Department of State

Save my Afghan interpreter

When I served as an Embedded Combat Adviser in Afghanistan, my interpreter, Janis Shinwari, saved my life. Now I need you to help me save Janis’ life. In 2008, Janis and I were caught in the middle of a firefight. He took swift action when a combatant shot at me. But beyond that specific incident, Janis served a critical role for me and all of the other troops serving in Afghanistan. Thousands of Afghan nationals have served as interpreters to assist US troops in communicating in real time and providing a cultural link between the troops and Afghan nationals.  However, because they are so visible in their communities, many interpreters have become targets for violence. Janis knows for a fact that the Taliban has added his name to a kill list and he is in constant danger. For the moment, he is living safely on an army base, but he needs to leave the country immediately to ensure his safety and that of his family. The US operates a specific visa program for Afghan nationals who serve as interpreters who want to relocate to the US -- and there is a similar program for interpreters in Iraq. The program was created through legislation in 2009 (the Afghan Allies Protection Act), but thousands of interpreters like Janis are still waiting for their visas. The process is incredibly complicated for applicants and bureaucrat hold ups leave interpreters waiting in dangerous situations for months or even years. Now, both programs are weeks away from expiring unless Congress takes action to renew them. Janis began his application for a US Visa in 2011. Today, he is still waiting for the US Embassy in Kabul to issue him the visa he has earned. The Embassy and the State Department have the power to help Janis leave Afghanistan and start a life in a safe place. I know first hand how critical interpreters like Janis are to our troops serving overseas. It’s time that the US do the right thing and help Janis escape the dangerous situation he’s in because of the work that he did for our country.  Please join me in calling on the US Embassy in Kabul and the State Department to help save Janis life by issuing his visa immediately.

Matt Zeller
113,351 supporters
This petition won 2 years ago

Petition to US Embassy in Kabul, US Department of State

Help save Ehsan, the interpreter in Afghanistan who helped US troops

Thanks to a previous Change.org petition, I was able to help Janis Shinwari, my interpreter while I served as a base intelligence officer in Afghanistan, secure a visa to resettle in the US after he was stuck for years in bureaucratic red tape. Now I need your help again to save my other interpreter, Ehsan.  While serving in Iraq in 2008, I learned that the help of local Afghan nationals like Janis and Ehsan was critical to our effort. Thousands of Afghan nationals have served as interpreters to assist US troops in communicating in real time and providing a cultural link between the troops and Afghan nationals. It wasn’t until after my service, when I learned that Janis’ life was in danger as he was placed on a Taliban kill list because of his work to help US troops, that I truly understand how much these brave individuals put on the line. Every day, many of these interpreters live in fear that they or their families will be harmed in retaliation for their efforts -- a very real and deadly threat. Like Janis, Ehsan is an amazing man. During our time together, Ehsan helped my unit and I interdict over 7 tons (millions of dollars worth) of drugs used by the Taliban to fund their attacks. The Taliban know this and as a result placed him on their kill list. Without our help, he could die.  Luckily, the US operates a specific visa program for Afghan nationals who serve as interpreters who want to relocate to the US -- and there is a similar program for interpreters in Iraq. The program was created through legislation in 2009 (the Afghan Allies Protection Act), but thousands of interpreters are still waiting for their visas. The process is incredibly complicated for applicants and bureaucrat hold ups leave interpreters waiting in dangerous situations for months or even years. Now, both programs are set to expire in the coming months unless Congress takes action to renew them. When my previous campaign took off, Janis’ application started moving faster and now Janis has his visa to safety. I don't think I've ever heard him as happy as when he finally received his visa. Ehsan, my other interpreter, heard all about our efforts to help Janis and contacted me begging that I do for him what I did for Janis. Ehsan submitted his application to the US Embassy in Kabul in June 2012 but he’s still waiting for his visa. The Embassy and the State Department have the power to help Ehsan leave Afghanistan and start a life in a safe place. Together, we can help make that happen.

Matt Zeller
116,511 supporters